Pat Some Butts, Barry — Maureen Dowd

November 25, 2012   ·   9 Comments

Source: NYTX


By Marie Burns:

Over at the Washington Post, Brookings Institution fellow Natan Sachs writes an op-ed titled “What Bill Clinton can teach Obama about the Israelis.” Meanwhile, at the New York Times, columnist Maureen Dowd writes an op-ed about what Robert Griffin III can teach Obama about governance. The writers both argue that President Obama should reach out more: measure “deliberate toughness coupled with convincing love,” as Sachs puts it, or spend more time “schmoozing with pols ... to further his agenda,” as Dowd writes.

Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States in 1992. Robert Griffin III (popularly known as RG3, not RGIII, as Dowd has it) was two years old in 1992. Griffin became eligible to vote the year Barack Obama won the presidency for the first time. I am not suggesting older people can't learn from the young. Not only did young people turn out to vote in record numbers this month, according to researchers at Tufts University, “Obama easily won the youth vote nationally, 67 percent to 30 percent, with young voters proving the decisive difference in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.” Had older Americans followed the lead of young voters, the 2012 president election would have been an Obama rout rather than merely a decisive Obama win. Moreover, American young people would have demanded that Congress and the President be far more progressive than will be President Centrist and the latest Dysfunctional Congress. But young voters – wiser than their parents, to be sure – still are not presidential timbre.

Neither is Robert Griffin. I should say that Griffin is indeed a remarkable young man: a rare living example of the ideal athlete/scholar/gentleman – or so we read. But Griffin is primarily an athlete: he is the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner and a rookie quarterback for the Washington Redskins. The team is 5 and 6 this season. Athletes – particularly professional athletes – should not bear the burden of serving as role models for anyone. They most certainly are not equipped to serve as models for the Leader of the Free World. Maybe the President should endorse Adidas and Gatorade. Griffin does.

The sports world's – and Dowd's – attempts to turn ordinary people of extraordinary athletic ability into “heroes” is a pathetic, often destructive, farce. Dowd writes, “In a sports world dimmed by fallen heroes like Tiger Woods, Joe Paterno and Lance Armstrong, RGIII offers values on and off the field that make us feel that it’s O.K. to believe again.” Oh, for Pete's sake. Athletes are not heroes. They are men and women who play a particular sport or sports spectacularly well. There is nothing remotely heroic about passing a football or slam-dunking a basketball or hitting the ball out of the park – or coaching kids who are good at those things. These are jobs. They come with paychecks, paychecks that are usually more than commensurate with the abilities of the employees. As for those “fallen heroes” Dowd mentions: they got too big for their britches in one way or another, and they got there largely because of the hype and outsized demands of the media. We can all hope that young Griffin does not suffer the same fate as Armstrong, et al. But know this: Maureen Dowd's hagiographic column is not helping his chances.

What-all is Barack Obama supposed to learn from Robert Griffin? Well, sportsmanship. Being more of team player. Dowd cites Griffin as an “endearing” exemplar who shows

... a zeal to make every play count, a work ethic and self-effacing charm that has everyone rooting for him, a leadership style that causes teammates to lift their games. You can see RGIII going up and down the sidelines patting his teammates for encouragement. And in a rare move, the team voted to make the rookie quarterback a captain.

Yeah, well, the team voted to make the rookie Senator its captain, too. Team USA is a lot bigger and more diverse than the Redskins. And, thanks, but no thanks. Should I wind up on an Obama ropeline, I don't want the President giving me an encouraging pat on the ass. During his first term, President Obama got a remarkable amount of significant legislation through Congress even though Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress for only about five-and-a-half months. I expect the House and Senate did all that without any buoying butt-pats from Captain Obama. (Moreover, Obama managed to manipulate Chief Justice Roberts into upholding the constitutionality of the most important law -- the Affordable Care Act -- something the Chief Justice surely did not want to do.)

Would Barack Obama have been a more effective President if he had made more phone calls to members of Congress? If he had invited members over for a few games of B-ball or rounds of golf? Dowd says yes. She writes that “a Democratic senator recently told me: 'If only the president would have us over to the White House sometimes and talk to us, it could really help. When Bill Clinton called and asked if he could have my vote, I was more prone to do it because we had developed a rapport.'” It would be helpful to know who that anonymous Democratic Senator is because by most accounts, President Clinton had a particularly rocky relationship with Congress. As Karen Tumulty wrote in 1998, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal,

as House and Senate Democrats ponder how much they are willing to risk to defend a President who has again and again abandoned them when the tables were turned. Consider how their fortunes have differed in the six years since Clinton rode into the capital as a new kind of Democrat: the President triumphed in his deals with Republicans to balance the budget, reform welfare and open trade. Cutting his party loose, he launched his own job-approval ratings to gravity-defying heights. Meanwhile, Democrats lost not only their New Deal traditions but also 52 seats in the House and a dozen in the Senate, rendering them all but irrelevant in the institution over which they once held a lock.

There were signs of trouble even before Clinton came to Washington. In his 1992 campaign, he blasted the then Democratic House's 'midnight pay raise....' He railed against the 1992 House banking scandal and promised to cut congressional staffs by a quarter.... Clinton aides called the relationship [between Clinton and Congressional Democrats] an 'impossible embrace.' … His powers of persuasion failing him with his onetime presidential rival Bob Kerrey, Clinton found himself shouting into the telephone at the Nebraska Senator, 'F___ you!'

How schmoozy exactly is “Fuck you”? As for Bill Clinton's relationship with Republicans in Congress – well, Impeachment.

Dowd's column is nonsense, just one more of her running effort to cut every president down to size. She won her Pulitzer Prize, after all, for picking apart Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. (As Bob Somerby wrote of Dowd's prize-winning columns, “... with Dowd, there was rarely a topic too pointless to consider, a judgment too unfair or foolish to render. And in the summer of 1999, this was, in Establishment Washington’s view, the best the national press had to offer.”) Now, both she and Sachs present the past president as a model for the current president. Sachs' suggestions are, to put it mildly, far more nuanced – and plausible – than Dowd's. He does not expect Obama to mimic Clinton, but to go for a positive result in his own way: “While not a charmer of Clinton’s stature, Obama has a remarkable ability to convey complex ideas.” (Still, despite Clinton's extraordinary "charm," his power of persuasion and an all-out effort, he was unable to effect a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine at a time when Clinton had a far more reasonable Israeli partner.) Whatever you think of his advice, Sachs has written a serious piece. Dowd has not.

If Dowd had been around longer, she might have recommended that Abe Lincoln invite Abner Doubleday over for tea. Maybe the Civil War would have played out on baseball diamonds across the still United States of America rather than on bloody battlefields. Or Dowd might have advised F.D.R. not to snub Jesse Owens; Hitler (who sent Owens a photo of himself) probably would not have started World War II. Yes, indeed. A president could do with fewer expert advisers if he just looked to the examples of superstar athletes.

Dowd claims that President “Obama gets tangled up in his head – trying to decide if he’s too noble to play politics or if spending some evenings schmoozing with pols and flattering them to further his agenda will leave him too depleted.” Really? In her lede, Dowd compares Obama (and Griffin) to the fictional character Cool Hand Luke whose defining characteristic – one which drives the story's narrative – is a refusal to conform to the (prison) system – not exactly a protagonist who is “tangled up in his head.” While I surmise that Obama, like most of us, is self-reflective, Dowd's attempt to portray him as a cross between Cool Hand Luke and Hamlet is hardly convincing. The single-minded Luke did not dither over whether to schmooze or not to schmooze.

Besides, you can bet that had President Obama spent more time wooing and coddling members of Congress, Dowd would be writing that he was a weakling who had abdicated his executive responsibilities and ceded control of the government to Congress. Oh, wait. She already did.

Marie Burns blogs at


Readers Comments (9)

  1. PD Pepe says:

    I suspect that Ms. Dowd thought that writing about Bobby three sticks was COOL–-see? I’m into sports just like the rest of you guys. But then how to connect that with Obama––hmmm––oh, I have it––the ability to connect on the playing field of political schmooze and once again deride “Barry” for being such an aloof, disengaged kind of guy––Paul Newman is turning in his grave on that note. During the GW Bush era his administration would get all in a tither over Maureen’s scathing columns about Poppy and his dolt of a son. One wonders whether the Obama administration gives a flying fig––I imagine they be real COOL about it, recognizing the source.

  2. D12345 says:

    Thanks Marie,
    I read Dowd in disbelief today. Even by her excruciating low standards, this was a low point.

    It is really hard to put into words out superficial,
    “girly,” stupid and nihilistic Dowd has become.

    Small point….I don’t think we should be dignifying the Washington football team’s offensive and degrading name.

    If they were the Washington Spearchuckers, I think we would have a problem. But Native Americans, victims of monumental genocide, have been reduced to mascots.

    I think we should all just refer to the Washington football team and leave it at that.

    Thanks again,

  3. D12345 says:


    “It is really hard to put into words how superficial….etc”

  4. Kokuanani says:

    I think, in your disdain for Ms. Dowd, you fail to recognize a legitimate point she’s trying to make.

    Obama is all about Obama. He never mentions “the Democratic party” or “our Democratic values.” He kept all the money raised over the spring and summer for HIS election, refusing to share funds with members of Congress up for election. Way to inspire loyalty, Barry.

    He never “shares the glory,” naming Democrats who’ve worked hard to make him look good [except for those in-house staff members]. His failure to credit Bill Clinton with the incredible work Clinton did to promote Obama’s re-election is just the icing on the selfish, narcissistic Obama cake. [And I’m no Clinton fan.]

    So, Dowd may be all the superficial etc. things you say she is, but she’s got a point, one that many [Chris Matthews, for example] have made about Obama and his me-ness.

    • marieburns says:

      @Kokuanani. “He kept all the money raised over the spring and summer for HIS election, refusing to share funds with members of Congress up for election.”

      Thanks for contributing. However, your remark about Obama’s fundraising would appear to be completely inaccurate. President Obama, along with Michelle Obama & members of the Obama Administration, took in tens of millions of dollars for the Democratic National Committee, which doles out funds to many Congressional candidates and to issue-oriented ads as well as to the presidential campaign.

      If you have a reliable source for your assertion, please share it, though it would probably come as a surprise to DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.


  5. Trigger says:

    ***During his first term, President Obama got a remarkable amount of significant legislation through Congress even though Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress for only about five-and-a-half months.***


    Name three, aside from Lily Ledbetter.

    And what about all the nominations he deserted? Ask Dawn Johnson & Elizabeth Warren about Obama’s “support.”

    Also, Obama completely failed to take advantage of both the momentum of his victory and the Dem majorities to get judicial nominations through Congress. As a result, numerous vacancies continue even to this day, and the bench is stuffed with Republican hold-overs. Ditto for cleaning Republicans out of the agencies, where such action was possible.

    You’ve been drinking too much of the OFA Kool-aid.

    • marieburns says:

      @Trigger. Oh, for Pete’s sake.

      1. American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (stimulus).

      2. Fraud Enforcement & Recovery Act.

      3. Credit Card (CARD) Act.

      4. Worker, Homeowners & Business Assistance Act.

      5. Dodd-Frank Act, which includes creation of the …

      6. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

      7. Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act.

      8. American Jobs Act.

      9. Violence Against Women Act — expanded funding.

      10. Iran Sanctions Act.

      11. New SALT treaty.

      12. New START treaty.

      13. Veterans Health Care Act.

      14. Military Spouses Relief Act.

      15. G.I. Bill 2.0.

      16. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

      17. Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

      18. Christopher & Dana Reeve Paralysis Act.

      19. FDA tobacco regulations act.

      20. Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act.

      21. Affordable Care Act.

      22. Claims Resolution Act.

      Thanks for writing. Next time, do your own homework, please.

      P.S. I don’t disagree with the other points you make, but they are not ones I address or imply in the column, so although you present them as refutations of my premises (in your drinking the Kool-Ade remark), they do no such thing. They are just a laundry list of other stuff you don’t like about the President.

  6. PD Pepe says:

    @Trigger––I see that Marie has had to do your work. Here is the link to the listing of 206 accomplishments so far.

  7. Mike Vogel says:

    Exactly right, Marie. I addressed the same issue from a different angle on my blog today ( Dowd definitely has jumped the shark and is becoming unreadable.


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