Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dowd: New Themes for the Same Old Songs


W. and Katie
By MAUREEN DOWD

W. and Katie were both on TV at 6:30 last night, trying to prove they were a man.

Katie won, by a whisker.

The president and the anchor were on a big push this week to prove they could be the daddy at the helm, trustworthy authority figures who could guide America through tumultuous times. She wanted to prove that she was a commander; he wanted to prove that he was an anchor.

The fate of a network, and the fate of a republic, would appear to hinge on gender issues.

W., Dick Cheney and Rummy are on a campaign to scare Americans into believing that limp-wristed Democrats will curtsy to Islamic radicals and Iranian tyrants, just as Chamberlain bowed to Hitler, and that only the uber-manly Republicans can keep totalitarianism, fascism and the Al Qaeda “threat to civilization’’ at bay. If they were women, their rhetoric would be described with adjectives like shrill, strident, illogical and hysterical. But since they are men, we’ll just call it Churchill envy.

“Now, I know some of our country hear the terrorists’ words, and hope that they will not, or cannot, do what they say,’’ Mr. Bush said in a speech yesterday to a military group, which was the second story on the first evening news show anchored by the first solo female network anchor. “History teaches that underestimating the words of evil and ambitious men is a terrible mistake.’’ Mr. Bush said that the world failed to heed Lenin and Hitler, and it was essential to pay attention to bin Laden.

Too bad the president didn’t take time out from clearing brush at the ranch long enough back in August of 2001 to pay attention to an intelligence paper headlined “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.’’

After playing down bin Laden for years, barely mentioning him and minimizing his importance, W. has once more picked up a metaphorical bullhorn on the cusp of the 9/11 anniversary to make Osama the villain, using his name 18 times in a 40-minute speech. Once it would have made a difference to decapitate Osama, and it would still be great to do it. But it’s too late to stop Al Qaeda that way now. The organization has diffused to a state of mind, fueled by hatred of U.S. occupation of Muslim land.

W.’s plan to save his legacy and keep Congress out of Democratic hands is to absorb a misbegotten and mishandled war, Iraq, into the good wars of the 20th century, World War II and the cold war. Instead of just admitting he bollixed up Iraq, W. and his henchmen are ratcheting up, fusing enemies willy-nilly, running around giving speeches with the simplistic, black-helicopter paranoid message: All those scary Arabs are in league to knock us off and institute the rule of Allah.

The president and his men have been trying to get everyone excited by repackaging and giving a new theme song to the same old things, just as Katie and CBS were trying to get everyone excited by repackaging and giving a new theme song to what turned out to be the same old newscast, just with more legs.

Les Moonves and Ms. Couric tried to wrap her debut in historical significance. She’s the Jackie Robinson of network news,’’ Mr. Moonves told me. In an interview on the local CBS affiliate that aired just before her debut, Katie said she had taken the job at her daughters’ urging, and her daughter Carrie told her to do it “because you’ll be the first woman to do that job by yourself. So I was like, cue Helen Reddy. Who knew I was raising such a little feminist?”

The press had lots of commentary like the one by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, titled “Women need Katie Couric to succeed.’’

Actually, the minute Katie Couric was given a $15 million paycheck to read from a teleprompter for 15 or 20 minutes a night, women won. Women have been doing that at the BBC and on American cable stations for years, and for a lot less dough. Jackie Robinson represented a revolution; Katie Couric represented a promotion.

The sad truth is, women only get to the top of places like the network evening news and Hollywood after those places are devalued.

He’s got ratings and she’s got ratings. His party’s voters; her network’s viewers. So we’re talking about the personal fulfillment of two people — W. and Katie — disguised and peddled as the fulfillment of a higher ideal. It’s marketing tricked out as ideology.

Courage, as Dan Rather used to say.

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