VITAL SIGNSrnPOLITICSrnEverything OldrnIs New Againrnby Janet Scott BarlowrnMaureen Dowd, premier columnistrnfor the New York Times, is possessedrnof a rare professional gift: She canrnbe mean (often really mean) and funnyrn(often very funny) at the same time.rnWhat’s more, her potent powers of observationrnand sheer talent as a writer usuallyrncombine to mitigate her predictablernWashington cynicism.rnBut with the election of George W.rnBush, Maureen Dowd is behaving like arnwriter off her feed. She is not all thatrnmean lately, and not all that funny, either.rnAnd she’s certainly not very incisive.rnWhat she is, it seems, is bothered —rninvested. And for a writer like Dowd, onernwhose every column is a precarious balancernbetween humor and crihcism, beingrnbothered, being invested —caring—rnis like throwing a fistful of salt into arndelicately seasoned sauce: It’s ruination.rnI have no idea what kind of PresidentrnGeorge W. Bush will become; but he is alreadyrnan interesting public presence becausernhe has demonstrated that it’s possiblernfor Maureen Dowd, the woman whornhad the Clintons’ number like no onernelse, to miss the point and miss it completely.rnOne of the many fascinating consequencesrnof the 2000 election is that, forrnthe first time, Dowd’s surveys of the politicalrnlandscape reflect not the faintest understandingrnof the view. In other words,rnthe sharpest gal around just doesn’t get it.rnOver the years, Dowd’s columns havernbeen great, and they’ve been lousy; she’srnbeen right, and she’s been wrong. Butrnnever has she looked silly—until now. Anrnexamination of the reasons behind thisrnturn of events yields revelations that arernsignified by, but far more important than,rnthe thinking of the New York Times’ mostrntalked-about columnist.rnIn early January, Maureen Dowdrnwrote a piece complaining that GeorgernW. Bush, along with the men and womenrnchosen to staff his administration,rnare boring. “Wliere is W.’s boomerness?”rnshe demanded. “If Bill and Al tried toornhard to be trendy,” she went on, “W. triesrntoo hard not to be.” Which two words inrnthose sentences suggest the source ofrnDowd’s current disorientation? Thernwords are boomerness and trendy, and it isrnnot an overstatement to say that MaureenrnDowd is completely preoccupied withrnboth, a fact which is revealed in everythingrnshe writes, whatever her subject.rnEvery so often, Dowd offers up arn”girly” column, a piece filled with talkrnof high-priced face creams, upscalernhandbags, and cashmere sweater sets —rn”trendy” stuff, you might say. That shernknows of such things—and writes of suchrnthings —suggests she cares about suchrnthings: things that are in, with it, happening.rnMaureen Dowd cares greatly—in arnboomerish, I’m-actually-above-it-all sortrnof way —about what is hip. What sherndoes not understand —and here is thernsource of her problem with the Bushrnteam —is what is cool.rnThe difference between the outgoingrnand the incoming presidential administrationsrnis all about the dissimilarity of hiprnand cool. In a nutshell: Hip entails effort;rncool just is. Hip comes and goes; cool isrneternal. Hip is about attitude; cool isrnabout essence. Hip is, yes, trendy; coolrndoesn’t know from trends. (And since thernfirst rule of cool is Don’t try to be hip, I’drnsay it speaks well for Bush’s cool potentialrnthat he has, as Dowd disapprovingly putsrnit, “a defiant anti-trendy streak.”) Cool isrna mysterious combination of self-possessionrn(which is not the same as self-confidence),rnself-knowledge (which is not thernsame as self-awareness), excellencern(choosing and then meeting high standards),rnand humor —that is, the colorationrnof a unique personalit}’.rnBy that measure, the coolest man inrnAmerica at this moment is a balding,rnoverweight, white guy with a problematicrnticker and not a trendy bone in his body.rnI am speaking of Dick Cheney. By thernrules of cool, which have been all butrnforgotten in the boomers’ slavish pursuitrnof hipness, Dick Cheney is the realrndeal. He’s The Man. (Some would sayrnThe Man is Colin Powell. But I’d pickrnCheney over Powell because Powellrnis just a tad too aware of his own coolness.)rnAnd Cheney is the most positivernthing to happen to this country in years—rnnot necessarily for his politics but for hisrnpublic comportment, his demeanor.rnWhen Dick Cheney speaks, he says nornmore than he has to and no less than hernneeds to. When asked a question, he eitherrnanswers it or explains why he won’trnanswer it. And like many of the men andrnwomen with whom Bush has surroundedrnhimself, Cheney seems to view languagernas a storehouse (if not a treasure trove;rnafter all, he’s in politics), a place fromrnwhich words are to be borrowed, usedrncarefully, then put back in their properrnspot. He appears to operate from the simplernpremise that the purpose of languagernis to clarify meaning, not obliterate it, arnpremise which, in the context of ourrntimes, generates but one heartfelt response:rnHoly cowlrnWhat Maureen Dowd finds depressing,rnI consider thrilling: the re-emergencernof politicians who dare to be honestlyrnboring. Call me easy, but it’srnenough to put a spring in my step andrna song in my heart. I even welcomernGeorge W.’s awkward, self-stifled verbalrnstyle —especially after eight years of arnpresident who viewed language as hisrnpersonal river, a president who was neverrnhappy until the Big Muddy had overflowedrnits banks, leaving every citizenrnwithin earshot squirming in clammyrnsocks and squishy shoes.rnWe keep hearing that the Bush team isrna “throwback.” What is not noted —apparentlyrnbecause it’s not comprehendedrn—is how shocking it is these days torncreate a (nonironic) throwback to anything.rnIn her Bush-generated doldrums,rnMaureen Dowd wrote, “There is nothingrnabout the government President-elect W.rnis putting together that feels the least bitrnmodern.” She went on to lament that thern”men [Bush] will rely on to tell him whatrnto do . . . reflect a bland, unadventurousrnadherence to tiadition.”rnI am a great fan of Maureen Dowd’srntalent, but she is an example of what canrnhappen when you spend too much timernthinking that cashmere sweaters representrnanything other than a really expensivernway to keep warm. The “boomerness”rnshe misses in George W. Bushrnoccupies so large a place in her own personarnthat it blinds her to the nature of ourrn44/CHRONICLESrnrnrn