Columnist skewers with humor

First published: Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The woman who routinely eviscerates America's leaders in print, leading President Bush to nick name her "The Cobra, " charmed a packed-to-capacity hall Tuesday with her self-effacing remarks and insight on today's often bewildering political landscape.

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd had the crowd of some 1,000 fans eating out of her hand the moment she admitted, from behind a lectern that dwarfed her petite frame, to being "frightened" by her biweekly task of writing for the paper's influential op-ed page.

"Usually I wait until the last minute to start because I'm so afraid," Dowd said. "Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I go, 'Oh my gosh, how did this happen? Why would anyone want to listen to me?' "

Dowd was a late add to the New York State Writers Institute's 2Oth anniversary lineup of authors who will be speaking in Albany this year. Nevertheless, she drew a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday at the University at Albany's Page Hall.

Several dozen disappointed people were turned away at the door. Dowd is promoting her new book, "Bushworld: Enter At Your Own Risk" (Putnam $25.95), a collection of her columns that blend cutting wit and pop culture references to create an often savage critique of the Bush administration."

On Tuesday, Dowd read one column from her book and then took questions from the audience for about an hour. Her responses were signature Dowd. She painted a the presidential election as a test of which candidate can appear more macho--a contest in which Bush seems to be trumping Democrat John Kerry.

"The whole Republican convention was like watching 'The Magnificent Seven," she said, referring to the 1960 western. "This whole race has been the Republicans trying to say 'You're a wimp!' to John Kerry."

Dowd noted that during the convention, Republicans had used words like "weak," "waffling" and "wavering" to describe Kerry. "It was like a Cialis ad," she said, referencing a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction. Her comment sparked a wave of applause and laughter.

Iris Berger, a Delmar resident and enrolled Democrat, said she had come to see Dowd specifically to hear lines like that one.

"I find the polls at this point, and the fact that people believe the lies that the President and some of the other Republicans are telling really depressing," she said. "I really do feel like I need some humor at this point."

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2003, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

Maureen Dowd