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Tilting at Windmills

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March 8, 2009

THE RIGHT TO BARE ARMS.... Maureen Dowd wrote over 400 words today about First Lady Michelle Obama's arms. Seriously.

Let's face it: The only bracing symbol of American strength right now is the image of Michelle Obama's sculpted biceps. Her husband urges bold action, but it is Michelle who looks as though she could easily wind up and punch out Rush Limbaugh, Bernie Madoff and all the corporate creeps who ripped off America.

In the taxi, when I asked David Brooks about her amazing arms, he indicated it was time for her to cover up. "She's made her point," he said. "Now she should put away Thunder and Lightning." [...]

During the campaign, there was talk in the Obama ranks that Michelle should stop wearing sleeveless dresses, because her muscles, combined with her potent personality, made her daunting.

She ignored that talk, thank heavens.... Her arms, and her complete confidence in her skin, are a reminder that Americans can do anything if they put their minds to it.

It goes on (and on) from there.

I don't know why.

* I changed the headline after an emailer sent me this better one

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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Comments

Why she writes this drivel is easy- it's all she's capable of doing. Why the Times pays her to write it, THAT is the hard question.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on March 8, 2009 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, Mo Do is the low-middle-brow version of Camille Paglia, OK? That stuff is her shtick, it's pointless to complain about. And hey, I for one dig Michelle and think it's OK to celebrate her mental and physical moxie. Maybe she should stand in front of the NYSE and wave her arms around ...

PS, get a load of this dated but still hilarious satire from Modern Humorist (they don't get enough attention or credit) of Paglia writing advice to Britney Spears.

Posted by: Neil B ☺ on March 8, 2009 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

It was pretty lame. Yet as a woman, I'm pretty astonished by how powerful while demure Michelle looks in her sleeveless clothes. You guys don't have the same problems as women in that area. Michelle's image reminds me of Rosy the Rivettor. There is a definite "can do" attitude there.

Posted by: corall on March 8, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Funny that the Republicans should be in such a tizzy... after all, they're the ones who are always promoting the right to bare arms.

Posted by: blondie on March 8, 2009 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

After surfing around the Sunday morning talk shows and hearing the opinions of Brooks, Newt and Mort Zuckerman I have concluded the Pundit class it totally insane and out of the bounds of reality.

Posted by: OXYMORON on March 8, 2009 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Mo Do is bored which makes her columns boring and irrelevant. Some people have just not adjusted to the seriousness of our situation and the fact that the adults of the next generation have taken charge -- and they are not limited to Republicans.

Posted by: Russell Aboard M/V Sunshine on March 8, 2009 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Maureen Dowd is a disappointed and unhappy person who cannot rise above triviality and snark in her otiose columns. Fortunately, one does not even need a "delete" key to deal with her writings--simply avert your eyes.

Posted by: seriously on March 8, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure its something everyone in the country wants or needs to read, but I have to confess that over-35 women do realize the significance of the arm thing. Michelle is over 40--HOW DOES SHE DO IT?????? Even over-40 women who are not particularly overweight have trouble with the upper arms. It is miraculous.

Posted by: Varecia on March 8, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Once again MoDo fetishizes some weird notion of glamorous-Amazonian feminism. She may or may not have an insight about Michelle Obama -- there are many great things about the First Lady's character that even the gender-wars-obsessed columnist could probably stumble upon something -- but typically Dowd is focusing on physical appearance. There's a reason why MoDo has opined so scathingly about both Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush: they're just not glamorous women. The ultimate sin, in Dowd's book.

By elevating female glamour as the single most potent organizing principle of a society (as opposed to, say, economic upheaval, plutocrats vs. the rest of us, theocrats vs. the rest of us, or, yes, even male charisma), Dowd rationalizes her own persona. She hasn't quite dealt with the fact that she's middle-aged and no longer an ingenue. Her writing is one long sad paean to her sense of herself as a desirable woman.

I wish the Times would find someone with a fresher view of feminism. I nominate Dahlia Lithwick or the incomparable Digby.

Posted by: BrklynLibrul on March 8, 2009 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

It's just what I've been saying, the Obama locker room mentality is ruining the pristine image of a stuffy, overdressed White House that I worked so hard to enforce. This president's extreme radical casualism is without doubt a threat to our national security!

Posted by: Andy Card on March 8, 2009 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, Mo Do is the low-middle-brow version of Camille Paglia, OK?

Wow. That's like five different kinds of mean. Well done!!

"put away Thunder and Lightning"? Jeebus Christmas. I am not versed in pundit etiquette, but I'm going to assume that when MoDo finished her nasally snigger, she asked Brooks if she could quote him, and he said yes. He not only wasn't embarrassed to have people know he said that, he wanted them to know he said that. Probably thought he would get a reputation as an homme d'esprit in Beltway circles. He was probably flattered that MoDo--cause we know she's like the modern Dorothy Parker--asked if she could use one of his lines in her totally hip and witty column. What a sad little dork he is.

Posted by: Jim on March 8, 2009 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

It's plausible Maureen is daunted by our First Lady's healthy and happy physique. I know the gravity-worries of the arm are of particular interest to the Dowds of our world. For taking up text space with such drivel, Mo Do should be told to STFU! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on March 8, 2009 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

MoDo is a bitter shrew who still can't get over the fact that Michael Douglas went screaming away from her and into the arms of Katherine Zeta-Jones.

Without her column, she would be a bitter, wrinkled, dried-up old barfly, spending her days drinking wine from a box and talking about when she was pretty.

Posted by: Realist on March 8, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Because she is paid a lot of money to come up with trivial banter in a column. People like her like they like American Idol. It's cheap, easy and disposable.

Posted by: Jymn on March 8, 2009 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

There's a reason why MoDo has opined so scathingly about both Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush: they're just not glamorous women. The ultimate sin, in Dowd's book.

Actually, it's the second-biggest sin. The ultimate sin for Dowd is to be more glamorous than she thinks she is.

We're in for at least four years of Dowd snarking on Michelle Obama for being younger, prettier and more glamorous than Dowd assumes herself to be.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 8, 2009 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, it's the second-biggest sin. The ultimate sin for Dowd is to be more glamorous than she thinks she is.

Yup. I can't find it--my search terms are too broad for a quick google--but Dowd wrote a hitpiece on Teresa Heinz Kerry in 2004 that was such a revealing screed of jealousy I can't believe no one did her the favor of spiking it. Maybe her editors hate her, too.

The closest I could come was a tossed off reference from Denver last August about how she missed THK channeling Blanche Dubois, which also says more about the shooter than the target, I think.

Posted by: Jim on March 8, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Brooks? Can't she do better than that dweeb?

Posted by: larry birnbaum on March 8, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Why not a story about her visits to Federal Agencies in DC? She gives that strength away on a weekly basis.

Posted by: tomj on March 8, 2009 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

I for one hope that the NYT realizes that it could save some money by firing MoDo. She really contributes nothing useful.

I haven't read her in years, in fact I try to pretend that she doesn't exist. I think she has more to set back feminism-- with her men-are-useless-and-unnecessary bullshit-- than anyone else I can think of. She's shrill, superficial, petty, navalgazing, catty and generally insufferable. I loathe her, more than I loathe Ann Coulter, in fact.

Please, NYT, find a talented, interesting woman columnist who doesn't make most feminists cringe.

Posted by: zoe kentucky on March 8, 2009 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Rather look at her biceps than Dowd's face. As for Brooks, enough already.

Posted by: Roger on March 8, 2009 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Jim at 11:57--

Is this what you're looking for?
Breck Girl Takes On Dr. No

Posted by: msmolly on March 8, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Let's dial down the misogyny a little. In this particular case, Dowd's chief sin is lack of originality--she's merely recycling a theme that has been bouncing around the cable news shows and other blogs. I think I spotted it on Salon too.

Since I never read her, I don't know whether this is the worst she's done. But even if it is we don't need to talk about her face, imagine her as a dried up barfly or repeat any of the other stereotypical ways of putting down a woman of a certain age. At the risk of getting all Mike Bradyish I have to say that what you say says more about you than the person you're saying it about.

Posted by: Henry on March 8, 2009 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

It's even worse: when various groups assess the balance of the NY Times op-ed page, for some reason they count Dowd as a liberal. A "liberal" who uses her column to put out the view, week after week, that male Democratic politicians are effeminate wimps, and female Democratic politicians (and spouses) are dykish or otherwise unfeminine. She occasionally ridicules a Republican, but in general the Republican style represents, to her, what men should be.

Posted by: Joe Buck on March 8, 2009 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

In the taxi, when I asked David Brooks about her amazing arms

Ah, the Pundit Cab, where all preconceptions are most helpfully confirmed. Was Thomas Friedman on the other side? Li'l Brooksie in between, on the hump, because he's moderate like that?

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on March 8, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Fforde writing about arming bears is far more interesting.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 8, 2009 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

It's a far worse situaution than Dowd let on. Michelle Obama wears sleeveless dresses in the Oval Office- ON A REGULAR BASIS!

Posted by: JL on March 8, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

You are so-o-o-o lame. Dowd's column wasn't about the First Lady's arms. It was about pundits, British & American, who complain about nothing. The British whines were LOL funny, and frankly, I find you pasty white boys creepily perverse in your discomfort over a pair of toned black arms.

The Constant Weader at www.RealityChex.com

P.S. If you don't appreciate Dowd, it's because you don't appreciate litruhchur. Read a little Jane Austen.

Posted by: Marie Burns on March 8, 2009 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Really? David Brooks called Michelle Obama's arms "Thunder and Lightning?" Really??? Are you kidding me?

What kind of weird prudery lingers in America? Really...Thunder and Lightning?!!?! And why would anyone want Michelle Obama's muscular, black woman arms covered?? And so what if she had flabby upper arms? So what if she were built more like, say, Queen Latifah?? Her arms should be covered then? Why shouldn't a woman have uncovered arms, at any age, in whatever condition, if she wants?

I wonder what it is about seeing a woman of a certain age or position in society with bare arms that makes some people feel uncomfortable? I wonder what that is about, eh?

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 8, 2009 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

MoDo:

Is Hillary's pursuit of arms control with the Russians and Iranians really a dig at Michelle Obama?

Could Michelle beat Hillary in an arm wrestle?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on March 8, 2009 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

I am astonished, even after all the idiotic things we have seen pundits write and writhe over for 8 years while the Bill of Rights burned, at the interest in the First Lady's arms (as well as other clothing and the President's habit of taking his jacket off to work at his desk like, well, an intent person at work). What's next? Barbie gets a gig on Fox for her 50th birthday? Here's the skinny, pardon the expression: Michelle Obama is young, beautiful; strong arms and wide shoulders can make sleeves uncomfortable (I'm a swimmer, nowhere near as fit as Mrs. Obama, but I understand the problem). Why shouldn't she feel comfortable? There's no question that she looks gorgeous. The to-do over arms is envy and establishment arrogance, as in: You newbies have power now, but you will never belong because only we, the WASP insiders, belong. Etc. It's just snark. Oh, and maybe the pathetic bleating of people who have column inches to fill and don't want to talk about something that matters because that would mean, uh, research and facts.

Posted by: SF on March 8, 2009 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

"What kind of weird prudery lingers in America"?

If you have to ask that can only mean that you are a pervert.

Posted by: JL on March 8, 2009 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

" During the campaign, there was talk in the Obama ranks that Michelle should stop wearing sleeveless dresses, because her muscles, combined with her potent personality, made her daunting.

She ignored that talk, thank heavens. I love the designer-to-J. Crew glamour. Combined with her workaday visits to soup kitchens, inner-city schools and meetings with military families, Michelles flair is our depressions answer to Ginger Rogers gliding around in feathers and lam.

Her arms, and her complete confidence in her skin, are a reminder that Americans can do anything if they put their minds to it. Unlike Hillary, who chafed at the loathed job of first lady, and Laura, who for long stretches disappeared into the helpmeet role, Michelle has soared every day, expanding the job to show us what can be accomplished by a generous spirit, a confident nature and a well-disciplined body.

I also have no doubt she can talk cap-and-trade with ease and panache. "


The above are the last three paragraphs of MoDo's column today. I'd say they're pretty laudatory of Mrs Obama.

Posted by: phoebes in santa fe on March 8, 2009 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

OOPs, the last FOUR paragraphs of her column. How can anyone reading all the column not think she was being complimentary???

Posted by: phoebes in santa fe on March 8, 2009 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

I saw MoDo in a clip from a talk show discussing her book about how women could do perfectly well without men. I'd have to say she's looked after herself very well, and she still looks pretty foxy. She's quite well-educated, and the well-educated of either gender have much less patience with the stupid of the opposite sex. I bet if you spent a serious evening with her over a few glasses of good wine, you could get her to admit that women can do without STUPID men, perfectly well, just as men could do perfectly well without stupid women, and in both cases it would eliminate a pretty hefty demographic.

MoDo has her ups and downs, but she spreads the snark around - she was merciless toward Sarah Palin, for example - and anyone can have an off day. If you want to see columns authored by a bitter harpy, check out anything by Anne Applebaum in WaPo.

Posted by: Mark on March 8, 2009 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Dowd didn't devote her entire column to obsessing over Mrs. Obama's bare arms. The first half was a retread of snark from the British tabloids about how the Obamas' gifts to Gordon Browne were just too, too tacky for words, dahlings. Which is about as intelligent as devoting half of her previous column to reprinting John McCain's idiotic "tweets" about supposedly wasteful earmarks, and then writing a half-baked half paragraph of her own about how Obama had somehow reneged on his campaign promise to get rid of earmarks. (Earth to Maureen, the President doesn't put any earmarks in the budget, Congress does). One thing's for absolutely certain: if there's anything important going on, if Obama or any member of Congress has said anything significant, she will ignore it in favor of discussing the profound meaning of his haircut or the color of his tie. And the New York Times, without any fact-checking or editing, will give it several column inches of space on their op ed page.

Posted by: T-Rex on March 8, 2009 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

Neil B is right about Dowd and Paglia.

But, Steve, YOU linked to her. Dowd and the NYT are laughing all the way to what's left of the bank.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on March 8, 2009 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

In the taxi, when I asked David Brooks about her amazing arms, [...] -- Dowd

Actually, I don't think that's how the story actually went; she wrote it that way, because it made her look cleverer. But, on March 3, the New York Times published something called "The Conversation" (Let Them Eat a Little Bit Cake), between Gail Collins and Davie Babbling Brooks.

http://tinyurl.com/bdgnfk

In that "conversation", clever little Davie brought up -- all unprompted -- Michelle's bared arms and called them Thunder and Lightning.

What I think happened next is that he was so pleased with himself and his wit, that he brought it up, *again*, with MoDo. Who liked it well enough to use the incident but thought the column would read better if she made it look as if it had been *her* idea to ask in the first place. Who's to know, other than Davie? And he ain't gonna write a letter to the editor about it, is he? Specially since she gave him the credit for the bon mot...

Too bad she doesn't read the paper she writes for :)

Hopefully, she's now hopping mad with Davie. I couldn't resist writing to her and pointing out just how boringly repetitive and obsessive Davie is, on top of not being really witty -- as she had noted in her column (she hadn't but, you catch more flies with honey, no?). I also commended her (same principle) for not being afraid of strong and forceful women... unlike poor little Bobo.

Posted by: exlibra on March 8, 2009 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

Not too many commentators here read to the conclusion of Dowd's column, where she said of Michelle Obama..."Michelle has soared every day, expanding the job to show us what can be accomplished by a generous spirit, a confident nature and a well-disciplined body." Considering the vicious right-wing attacks on Mrs. Obama's bare-armed clothing, Dowd's column cleared the air. It has been amusing to read the self-appointed critics' comments about "inappropriate" bare arms and then to see again the lovely bare-armed pictures of Mrs. Kennedy. I do not recall ever reading any criticisms of Mrs. Kennedy's bare arms. Back in the 1960's we were dazzled by Mrs. Kennedy and her sense of style. Mrs. Obama's critics do not seem to understand style, elegance, or grace---or to have any themselves.

Posted by: Applecrisp on March 8, 2009 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

Applecrisp, I noted the same thing several posts above. I think most of the column was quite complementary.

Posted by: phoebes in santa fe on March 8, 2009 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

phoebes, @21:34

The overall conclusion *was* complimentary. But it's a pity she couldn't resist mentioning Babbling Brooks' "Thunder and Lightning" cutesy phrase (probably in the interest of being "fair and balanced"), without pointing out how lame it was.

Posted by: exlibra on March 8, 2009 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

I read the whole thing....and I'm predicting this is just a set-up to go back to MoDo's old theme that Dems are all flacid wimps. She's getting ready to say the only thing muscular and hard in the White House is Michelle's arms. Michelle will end up being the Amazon, etc, etc. The whole point was/is to feminize Obama because that's what Dowd's point always is about.....

Lord, I wish she'd retire and get therapy. Or just retire.

Posted by: Midwest Meg on March 8, 2009 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

Michelle Obama's arm muscles are nothing compared to those on Ann Wolfe.

Posted by: Peter on March 8, 2009 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans and their talking heads are doing to Michelle what they were doing to Hillary in the 1990's and what they continued to do to her during 2008.
They attack the wife of a prominent male Democrat, with sexist innuendos. They attack any women who isn't a Repocon the same way.

If they can't find anything substantive to attack Michelle for, they will grab an any issue they can, like sleeveless dresses. And when they run through the litany of asininity, they will start inventing even even more asinine things to fault her for. Just wait, we still have the bitch and whore stage to go through.

One side puts up Hillary and Michelle and the other side puts up Bachmann, and Malkin. That's probably one of the many reasons the Republican Party is sitting on the bench these days.

Posted by: Marnie on March 9, 2009 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

She wrote it to skewer Brooks in particular and the pundit class in general. As several have noted, she's quite complimentary to Michelle Obama and she makes Brooks into a fool. That was the point, I suspect.

Posted by: Murphy on March 9, 2009 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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