Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Right To Bare Arms

Should Michelle Cover Up?
Published: March 7, 2009

Maureen Dowd apologizes up front for stealing stablemate Thomas Friedman's schtick.

Journalists are never supposed to start a piece with a scene in a taxi because it signals either laziness about gathering facts or a tendency to embroider facts.

Nonetheless, I’m going to. David Brooks and I were sharing a cab to the British Embassy the other day to meet with Gordon Brown.
And that kicks off a special All-Crossword-Clue© edition of her column (many of the definitions today are courtesy of Merriam-Webster Online). She starts out with what could be a Movies With Maureen®, but since she was just on Broadway to catch Will Farrell's one-man skewering of W., it it probably more a tribute to the current Angela Lansbury/Rupert Everett stage production since it's unlikely that Gordon Brown was really blithe in the sense of "lacking due thought or consideration."
The dour prime minister was a blithe spirit despite a mutinous British press corps that was whingeing about the president snubbing the prime minister.
Whinge being Dowd's favorite form of "complaining fretfully"
The press also conjured paranoia that the president’s “Lady MacBeth” had been behind the clipped treatment because, as James Delingpole snipped in a Telegraph blog, “Her broad-brush view of history associates Brits with the wicked white global hegemony responsible for the slave trade.”
Since the villainess of The Scottish Play is in quotes, that means Maureen is referring to James Delingpole quoting an American talk show host.
I discovered that Obama's judgment is pretty dreadful - but this? My favourite theory so far - suggested by presenter Greg Garrison - was that it was a move calculated to please his Lady Macbeth.
Delingpole also let go the great word "hegemony" which infers a certain level of economic or cultural imperialism. But a different British columnist saw Michelle in a different light.
The British tabloids carped that, while Sarah Brown gave the Obama girls Top Shop dresses and necklaces, a “solipsistic” Michelle merely gave the Brown boys models of Marine One.
The person calling Michelle "egocentric or self-centered" is Sarah Vine of THE Times who had this to say:
Short of giving the boys Action Man models of her own husband smiting the evil forces of neoconservatism, Mrs Obama’s gesture could not have been more solipsistic or more inherently dismissive of Mrs Brown.
But Maureen doesn't blame Michelle for the paltriness of the parting gifts.
(Step it up, Desirée).
Maureen's rebuke on the chintziness of the Obamas is aimed at East Wing social secretary Desirée Rogers.

And Maureen's extensive (if occasionally faulty) Austen expertise allows her to trot out a literary allusion personifying Wall Street as "a silly flighty person."
As blue chips turn into penny stocks, Wall Street seems less like a symbol of America’s macho capitalism and more like that famous Jane Austen character Mrs. Bennet, a flibbertigibbet always anxious about getting richer and her “poor nerves.”
And what would think of Maureen's vocabulary if she didn't trot out her very favorite word for "concise to the point of seeming rude or mysterious."
Wall Street is weak and jittery, rejecting the vague and laconic courtship of Timothy Geithner.
But back to the taxi-cab and the real point of the column. She quotes David Brooks (who shows a surprising familiarity with body-building vernacular) as inferring that Michelle needs to be more decorous in her dress.
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.”
This allows Dowd to channel fellow Pulitzer Prize winner Robin Givhan and give some fashion reporting.
David was not smitten by the V-neck, sleeveless eggplant dress Michelle wore at her husband’s address to Congress — the one that caused one Republican congressman to whisper to another, “Babe.”
She continues to quote Brooks getting increasingly cattier.
He said the policy crowd here would consider the dress ostentatious. “Washington is sensually avoidant. The wonks here like brains. She should not be known for her physical presence, for one body part.” David brought up the Obamas’ obsession with their workouts. “Sometimes I think half the reason Obama ran for president is so Michelle would have a platform to show off her biceps.”
And Brooks is not the only one obsessed with shoulder skin.
I’d seen the plaint echoed elsewhere. “Someone should tell Michelle to mix up her wardrobe and cover up from time to time,” Sandra McElwaine wrote last week on The Daily Beast.
But Maureen comes to Michelle's rescue.
I love the designer-to-J. Crew glamour. Combined with her workaday visits to soup kitchens, inner-city schools and meetings with military families, Michelle’s flare is our depression’s answer to Ginger Rogers gliding around in feathers and lamé.
The Ginger Rogers call-out subtly evokes Ann Richards famous feminist quote.
After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.
But Maureen also has in mind an even more famous icon that rolled up her sleeves, get the job done, Rosie The Riviter whose Can Do attitude lead the US out of the Great Depression and to victory in World War II.
Her arms, and her complete confidence in her skin, are a reminder that Americans can do anything if they put their minds to it.
Maureen sees no dichotomy between brains and brawn.
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.
And with a certain "dash or flamboyance in style and action", she ends our Sunday vocabulary lesson on a high note.


mark h said...

flibbertigibbet is our word for the day.

Mo MoDo said...

So we have to scream when we hear it?

Grace Nearing said...

“Washington is sensually avoidant. The wonks here like brains. She should not be known for her physical presence, for one body part.”

It is? They do? She shouldn't?

And shouldn't Michelle's toned arms count as two body parts?

Mo MoDo said...

If you start talking about body parts in pairs, people's (well, mine at least) minds go straight to the gutter.