It was the 15th anniversary of news producer Carol Joynt’s Q&A Café Nov. 10, and the former owner of Nathans, where the monthly lunch and live interview began in 2001, landed a big “get” for her event at the George Town Club. Her guest: Maureen Dowd, the infamous and feisty redheaded prizewinning New York Times columnist and author of her just released book “The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics.” The lunch took place less than 48 hours after the stunning Brexit-like upset win of Donald Trump for president over Hillary Clinton, who was predicted to win by all elite media pundits, including Dowd.
Joynt skillfully led Dowd through a professional and personal interview, but it wasn’t easy. Dowd barely smiled — her expected snarky remarks were funny, non-partisan but almost rote. She used words like “terrified” and “scared” at least five times. “I’m still dumbfounded, but I’ll get there,” Dowd said somewhat glumly. “I always do penitence after these things.”
Dowd was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and is a graduate of Immaculata High School and Catholic University. She started her journalism career on the Washington Star and then joined the New York Times as a Washington correspondent before becoming a columnist. She is known for her “acerbic” commentary, colorful nicknames and exaggerated caricatures of presidents and high officials. She calls President George W. Bush “W” and has referred to President Barack Obama as “Barry.” She cherishes the personal notes she has received from Bush Sr. and his openness to her and other Democrats.
During the 2008 campaign, at the height of the “birther” attacks on candidate Obama, the Bushes told her that they really liked him. And they said they loved Bill Clinton. “He’s my brother from another mother,” W would say. Dowd predicts the Clintons will be back in political power in the future. Meanwhile, Hillary may become a university president or the like.
But Dowd hasn’t quite got her ground game yet on Trump.
“He cut my access off two or three months ago,” she said. “But I was disappointed that he did not call me a clever name as he did Chuck Todd [‘Sleepy Eyes’] and Sen. Elizabeth Warren [‘Pocohontas’].”
“No one knows what he is going to do,” said Dowd in response to Joynt’s question about the president-elect. “That’s hard for us pundits to say because we are paid to know and tell what is going to happen. But we don’t. He owes no one, not even Fox News. No one even knows what character he is going to take on.”
A Georgetown resident who lives in an N Street house once occupied by Jack Kennedy when he was a bachelor, Dowd admitted to being focused on urban centers, especially D.C. and New York City, which she describes as “being like Oz” to her, the emerald city. Despite the fact that Trump is a New Yorker elite, Dowd said, “He hears the [rural] crowd and goes with it.”
“It’s terrifying being a columnist who has to cover all this,” Dowd said. “Sometimes I wake up at night wondering why I do this.” She said she increasingly feels that way because the Times no longer even looks at a columnist’s writing, much less edits it, for fear of being accused of censorship. There is no safety net for a columnist any longer, she lamented. “We are alone,” she said.
Dowd admitted to Joynt that (like so many people) she is a nervous public speaker. When Joynt asked her what the writing process was like for her, she immediately responded, “It starts with pure fear.”