Catiline, Dowd, and the Felonious Frog

Maureen DowdMartin Longman, or as I think of him “the felonious frog,” wrote an inspired rant about Maureen Dowd. Many people have covered Dowd’s most recent column, most notably Digby: yet another column about her disappointment that (this time) President Obama does not rush back to Washington because of something Dowd things is oh so important. (Crabgrass on the White House lawn, perhaps?) But Longman took a very clever approach in, With Apologies to Cicero. It is a parody of The First Oration Against Catiline, so I wish he had given it the title, The First Oration Against Maureen. But I fully understand why he didn’t.

But this puts Longman in the place of Cicero and Dowd in the place of Catiline. I like Longman so I don’t mind associating him with Cicero, although there is much to dislike about Cicero. It’s hard to put Dowd in the Catiline role. Her career has exemplified the kind of middle-of-the-road, cultural liberal commentator who though often amusing is politically uninteresting. Above all, she is no threat to the powerful—this is what makes her long relationship with The New York Times so understandable. And Catiline, regardless of what else you can say about him, was not the kind to make nice.

Martin LongmanI think that Catiline has gotten kind of a bad rap. It’s not that he was wonderful or anything; I don’t think any of those guys were great as human beings. Did Catiline kill his first wife and son so he could get a better wife? Did he act like a despot while governing Africa? Did he cut off the head of his brother-in-law and parade it through the streets of Rome? Who knows?! History has been written by people inclined to make him look bad. Although, I kind of think he did do these things.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that he was a strong advocate for the plebs, which did not put him in well with the likes of Cicero who considered them, well, plebs. And yes, Catiline was power hungry and he was probably using the plebs as a base of support because he didn’t have a lot of other options. And I have little doubt that he would have been a terrible ruler if he had taken over Rome. But he did stand for something—and something radical at that.

To call Maureen Dowd vanilla is to gravely insult my favorite ice cream flavor. In the political realm, Dowd is more like plain yogurt. And even that overstates her importance. But it is possible that Cicero’s speech is more appropriate for her than for Catiline. Because Catiline definitely had committed treason against the Roman Republic. And so Cicero’s understated Oration with its “We are so tired of your trying to overthrow the Republic all the time!” tone probably addresses Dowd’s crimes against journalism better than Catiline’s crimes against the Republic.

Regardless, Longman’s piece is brilliant. He’s the first paragraph:

When, O Maureen, do you intend to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now? Does not the biweekly mockery of the populace—does not the laughter throughout the city—does not the scorn of the people, and the union of all good men and women—does not the precaution of writing behind a firewall—do not the looks and countenances of this venerable body here present, have any effect upon you? Do you not feel that your plans are detected? Do you not see that your conspiracy is already arrested and rendered powerless by the knowledge which every one here possesses of it? What is there that you wrote last night, what the four nights before— where is it that you were—what demented muse that you summoned to meet you—what design was there which was adopted by you, with which you think that any one of us is unacquainted?

I believe that Ms Dowd will be abusing our patience for at least another decade. Catiline died heroically, shortly after Cicero wrote those words. No one wants that for Dowd. But couldn’t she go off somewhere alone and write novels like Anna Quindlen?

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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