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Obama Defangs Maureen Dowd?

It would seem to be simple Campaign 101: If you are running for President, do not, under any circumstances, give a long, casual, rambling interview to a reporter you suspect is likely to, in the resulting story, analogize your latest diplomatic meeting to a homoerotic tryst and, like a randy sex therapist, suggest in print that you "must want a cigarette."

And yet, Obama did just that, chatting with Maureen Dowd for her column today about his chemistry with Sarkozy and his campaign staff's crush on Carla Bruni. Why? Partly he was just following orders. "If Obama keeps being stingy with his quips and smiles, and if the dominant perception of him is that you can’t make jokes about him, it might infect his campaign with an airless quality," Dowd chided him ten days ago. "If Obama offers only eat-your-arugula chiding and chilly earnestness, he becomes an otherworldly type, not the regular guy he needs to be." Well, joking with her about another reporter's creepy interest in his smell certainly shows a desire to rectify the chilly earnestness problem!

But more broadly, I'd guess Obama went in on this column simply because giving her this kind of buddy-buddy access is working. His quotes from that interview, transcribed with barely any comment, make up more than half of her column, which must be some kind of record for hands-off treatment where Dowd is concerned. And while Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon complained that the column merely represents "the most recent attempt by Maureen Dowd to tar Barack Obama as Teh Ghey," I actually thought the column painted a charming picture of Obama: relaxed, capable, confident in his own skin but not too arrogant to fail to still be surprised by people's degree of interest in him. 

This is the Obama that's been showing up recently in her columns: a candidate who is "smooth," "perennially cool," "refreshing," whose kids are "a tribute to the [his] parenting" and who "listen[s] until everyone at the table [feels] they [have] been heard (and agreed with)." Even the acid columnist's critiques are gentle now. "Certainly, as the potential first black president, and as a contender with tender experience, Obama must feel under strain to be serious," she wrote, sympathetically, of Obama's purported humorlessness. He's a candidate as open as any to accusations of snobbery, but she hasn't subjected him to anywhere near the bitter treatment she gave Al "So Feminized and Diversified and Ecologically Correct That He's Practically Lactating" Gore.

Noam reported back in March that "reporters say that Obama is unusually solicitous of Times columnist Maureen Dowd when she materializes on the campaign trail. They recall how he recently sidled up to her on the plane and remarked on her snazzy pair of boots." Since right around that time, the wimpy Obama that Dowd had sneered at during the primaries started fading from her pieces. Her favorite nasty nickname for him, "Obambi," has not been spotted in one of her columns since March 9.

"It turned out Sarko was also Obamarized, as the Germans were calling the mesmerizing effect," Dowd wrote of his trip to Europe. She's showing the signs herself. If Obama set out to achieve this effect intentionally, I'm impressed.

Eve Fairbanks