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Maureen Dowd on why politics in 2016 sounds like a ‘primal scream and death rattle’

Why does the presidential political landscape look like it’s been ripped from the ‘90s? And will Donald Trump inspire more celebrities to run for the highest office? New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd sits down with Gwen Ifill to discuss her new book, "The Year of Voting Dangerously," and what she thinks of politics today.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now back to the campaign, this time through the eyes of a highly influential columnist who says she's never seen anything like it.

    I sat down recently with New York Times writer Maureen Dowd about her new book, "The Year of Voting Dangerously."

    It is the latest addition to our series Political Ink.

    You say, after years of covering these people, that President Obama is too cool, Hillary Clinton is too cold, and Donald Trump is way too hot. What's a voter to do?

    MAUREEN DOWD, Author, "The Year of Voting Dangerously": Where were you when I was writing my book blurb? That's perfect.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Huh?

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    Yes.

    That's the wild thing about this election year. It's like the revenge of the '90s. All of those characters we started with are back, you know, in different capacities. Bill is back as first lady. Monica Lewinsky is back as a bullying advocate — anti-advocate.

    And, you know, Hillary is back. Rudy Giuliani is back. Newt Gingrich is back. Seinfeld back, in the sense that Steve Bannon, who's running Trump's campaign, made all his money from Seinfeld.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Oh, they're all back.

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    They're all back.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, as I read this book — and a lot of it is columns of yours I have read, one…

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    And Trump.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And Trump, of course.

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    Sorry.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    One at a time. One at a time.

    But when I read them again altogether, I come away with the impression you don't like any of these people.

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    Well, actually, I start out kind of gushing about Barack Obama and Hillary.

    Some of the people who have interviewed me said it sounded like you had a girl crush on her in the beginning.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    in the beginning.

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    Because, when I covered her as the spouse of Bill Clinton running in '92, I was super supportive. And I talked about what a tightrope the first lady job is, because women like Hillary and Michelle have the same educational credentials as their husbands, and then they have got to go into these antediluvian, antiquated role of the first lady.

    And I remember, when Hillary, during the campaign, got delivered stationery, and they had dropped the Rodham from her name, and she got all upset and sent it back. And so the beginning columns were supportive.

    And then…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Same thing with Barack Obama.

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    Yes.

    But, with health care, also, I was so glowing about her when she went up to the Hill to present health care. But then she began the pattern that has proved to be so destructive to her to this day, where she just builds a wall of secrecy and defensiveness and blocking out the press and my way or the highway.

    And that's the pattern that's been repeated again and again. It doesn't help her.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let me ask you about something that President Obama said recently at a fund-raiser in New York about Hillary Clinton.

  • He said:

    "This shouldn't be a close election, but it will be. And the reason it will be is not because of Hillary's flaws." He went on to say, it's about sexism.

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    Right.

    Well, I think that the election of the first African-American president and now the first woman running on a major party ticket has definitely stirred up a lot of racism and sexism. And, in some ways, this election is the primal scream and death rattle of, you know, white men running America.

    But I also think that Barack Obama set a tone where he never talked about things as racist, even when they really were racist. And I think that would be a good model for Hillary, even though, when I watch Donald Trump rallies on YouTube, and I see the scroll of running comments, they are so nefarious and vicious, I just want to run and sign up for a Hillary — you know, to lick envelopes for Hillary.

    Do they lick envelopes anymore?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I don't think so.

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    Send e-mails for Hillary, because they're so nasty.

    So, a lot of that has been stirred up. But, on the other hand, I think she would be better off not calling sexism and modeling herself on the way Obama didn't call racism.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Who would you say you have admired over the years in politics? You speak kindly of George H.W. Bush. You speak kindly of Joe Biden.

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    Yes.

    It's hard, because I think I don't really want to be the kind of economist, like Stewart Alsop in the old days, or Scotty Reston, who really wanted to be friends with politicians and go to dinner parties with them.

    I mean, I think of myself as the watchdog, which creates problems sometimes with "Times" readers, because I'm not coming from the left or the right. I'm treating it more like a political reporter.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You are a Washington native, something a lot of people don't know about you. So you have watched the city not only as a collection of marble buildings, but also as a community.

    How has politics changed, how has Washington changed in your years as an armchair observer, as it were?

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    Oh.

    Well, you know, when I went to see George H.W. Bush for lunch a few years ago, I think he was just appalled at what had happened, because he was a bipartisan, and he believed in everyone working together and civility. And so I think it was very hard for him to even fathom the kind of politics that is being played nowadays.

    And I hope he doesn't tune in to the debates because he can't stand Donald Trump. He called him an epithet when I was at lunch with him.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Oh, my.

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    And that was before Donald Trump eviscerated Jeb.

    So, it's much coarser. And I'm not sure if what that leads to is a lot of other celebrities jumping in, because they think, if Donald Trump can do it, I can do it, and then we have kind of a "Dancing with the Stars," kind of B- and C-level celebrities jumping into every race from now on, or if this will cause people to snap out of it and try and get more high-toned candidates.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Whether the candidates become more high-tone enough, it's still tough for the voters.

    The name of your book is "The Year of Voting Dangerously."

    And it's worth it just for the cover, actually, "The Derangement of American Politics."

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Thanks, Maureen.

  • MAUREEN DOWD:

    Thanks, Gwen.

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