Sunday, July 20, 2008

Labor Pains


Ich Bin Ein Jet-Setter
By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: July 20, 2008

Every now and then Maureen Dowd has to remind us that she too has a high school diploma by making some allusion to a circa 1965 staple of scholastic knowledge. This week she must have stumbled upon an old copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.

Or she just may have fallen asleep during a Movies With Maureen® Steve Reeves Marathon (and I’m thinking Reeves since I doubt she knows who Kevin Sorbo is), because she is dreaming of Obama as a well-oiled heavily-muscled hero. After all, he does work out a lot:

…back home in Chicago, he worked out three times on Wednesday. An Associated Press report jokingly compared his fitness regime to that of Mr. Universe and marveled at “a distinct lack of visible sweat on the Illinois senator.”
And all this is reminding Maureen of that hunky hero of yore.
Because Obama started from scratch a year and a half ago in his amazing presidential odyssey, he has to swiftly and convincingly perform the political equivalent of the Labors of Hercules.

Cleaning the Augean stables in a single day seems like a cinch compared with navigating the complexities of Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Jordan in a few short days.
And while Dowd is well known for her alliteration and movie references, her most distinctive rhetorical device is the Dowdversion®, two parallel clauses with either a twist or a pun connecting the two. We have several classic examples today.
Even if Obama is treated as a superstar by W.-weary Europeans, some Obama-wary Americans may wonder what he’s doing there…
See the alliterative weary/wary change-up. But not all rise to this level of pithy. Some are a little lazier and more obvious:
Since he’s already fighting the perception that he’s an exotic outsider, he can’t be seen as too insidery with the Euro-crats.
The outsider/insidery link is just a little forced. But when she is on top of her game, a Dowdversion® can work on several levels:
Instead of obtaining the girdle of the Amazon warrior queen Hippolyte, Obama has to overcome the hurdle of the Amazon warrior queen Hillary.
This one is a two-fer because we get the rhyming girdle/hurdle pair with the even more alliterative Hippolyte/Hillary comparison which completes the current events tie-in. And it masculinizes Senator Clinton as an Amazon warrior in a completely defensible literary allusional way. Take that Clark Hoyt.

The next Dowdversion® is more explicitly tied to Herculean labors motif:
Instead of slaying the nine-headed Hydra, he must bedazzle three European countries without causing Middle America to begrudge his popularity with a bunch of foreigners.
This one is a particulary significant call-back because begrudge and bedazzle are two of Dowd’s favorite words. In April she admired Hillary for…
…the gusto with which she bedazzled her résumé and then bedazzled some more when she got caught bedazzling.
In February she wrote a column about Obama titled “Begrudging His Bedazzling” (DowdReported here) where she declared:
Bedazzling beats begrudging.
But the use of 'bedazzling' predates the current campaign. Back in 2000, she wrote a column about how boring and soporific Al Gore that was titled “Belaboring, Not Bedazzling”. And 'belaboring' brings us right back (in more than one way) to Hercules.

She only explicitly mentions five of the twelve labors. In addition to cleaning the Augean Stables, slaying the Hydra, and de-girdling Hippolyte ones mentioned above, she also compares speech making to stealing the Apples of the Hesperides. But the labor she uses to invoke Bill Clinton is the most puzzling:
Obama must capture his own equivalent of the Erymanthian Boar, deciding how much to grovel to get Bill Clinton in his corner, and he has to calculate whether the Big Dog will be help or hindrance, or both, as he was with his wife, and how to use him, if at all.
While many might think comparing Bill to a boar (or even a bore) is an apt analogy, in the Dowdverse, Clinton is the Big Dog, which would make the three-headed hell-hound Cerebus the better choice. But explicating that metaphor would cause problems with a family newspaper and would make Maureen struggle to think of what exactly Bill Clinton’s third head would be.

And on that note, we have to sign off by noting that the Kennedy allusion in the title really has nothing to do with the swords and sandals motif of the rest of the column except that since Barack is going to Berlin as part of his travels, it ties Obama in some way to the JFK mystique. By the Washington dateline, we know Dowd isn't risking foreign intestinal distress by being on the press plane. That means Maureen has to stay home and fantasize about Barack coming to our rescue, whip in hand.

1 comment:

Grace Nearing said...

Cleaning the Augean stables in a single day seems like a cinch compared with navigating the complexities of Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Jordan in a few short days.

The Augean stables comparison is offensive to the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. While Dowd has never been considered prime material for the diplomatic corps, it probably would have been wiser had she chosen a different Herculean labor, not the one that was intended to degrade Hercules and features animals that are neither kosher nor halal.