In her October 21 New York Times column (subscription required), Maureen Dowd wrote that potential Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (IL) is "intriguingly imperfect," citing as one example the fact that "[h]is ears stick out." In a December 11 weblog entry, Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet wrote that Obama, following a press conference the previous day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, "headed toward New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and chided her -- in a kidding way -- for a comment in the 12th of 14 paragraphs in an Oct 21 column. She wrote that Obama's 'ears stick out.' " During the exchange, Obama said: "I just want to put you on notice. I'm very sensitive," adding, "I was teased relentlessly when I was a kid about my big ears."
However, on the December 14 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, Rush Limbaugh played an audio clip of Obama's comments to Dowd, claimed that he is "sensitive about his big ears," and said: "This is a man being lauded as the savior of the country, a presidential candidate ready to be anointed, and he can't handle being teased about his big ears?" Limbaugh even gave Obama a "nickname" -- "Barack Hussein Odumbo."
From the December 14 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
OBAMA: You talked about my ears. I just want to put you on notice: I'm very sensitive about -- what I told them was, ''I was teased relentlessly when I was a kid about my big ears.' "
DOWD: We're just trying to toughen you up.
LIMBAUGH: "We're just trying to toughen you up." Here is what Barack Obama said: Talk about my ears, so "I just want to put you on notice: I'm very sensitive about -- what at I told them was that [sic] 'I was teased relentlessly when I was a kid about my big ears.' "
Now, there are many aspects of this, folks, that we need to delve into and explore. For one thing -- I mean, you know me -- if the guy is sensitive about his big ears, we need to give him a new name, like Dumbo, but that doesn't quite get it. You know, just calling him -- calling him -- that just doesn't -- how about Barack Hussein Odumbo?
Well, if he's sensitive -- stop to think about this. This is a man being lauded as the savior of the country, a presidential candidate ready to be anointed, and he can't handle being teased about his big ears? And he goes out to Maureen Dowd and says, "I am putting you on notice"? Is that a threat? I want to put you on notice?
Limbaugh's attack on Obama was echoed by several conservative bloggers, and by MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, who cited Limbaugh's website as his source for claiming that Obama "apparently was annoyed with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd after she commented upon the size of his ears." He then asked: "[I]s he ready to take on the presidency?" Tucker posed the question to Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks, calling Obama a "sensitive little man." Brooks rejected Carlson and Limbaugh's suggestion, saying: "I think you've got this totally wrong. He was teasing her."
In addition to Sweet's blog entry, a February 24, 2005, Washington Post profile of Obama noted:
"I am genuinely somebody who doesn't get caught up in the hype," he says, adding that his wife, Michelle, loves to tease him about his big ears, and that he loves her for that.
"I think me puncturing my own balloon is something that's not only calculated to endear me to others," he says. "But it helps remind me of who I am and where I've come from."
Even Republican political strategist Mary Matalin agreed with Fox News host Alan Colmes' claim that Obama and Dowd were "joking." From the December 14 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
COLMES: Well, I'll send a message to your party. But, also, this thing about his ears, you know, he was joking with Maureen Dowd.
MATALIN: Of course.
COLMES: It wasn't like he confronted her. He was having fun with it, right?
MATALIN: Well, you know what? Maureen's a friend. I've called her and said to her she's Dorothy Parker on steroids, OK? That's what the -- she has a certain elite, sort of detached, you know, cynicism about stuff. I'm sure he was not overreacting to it, and I'm sure she didn't mean it seriously.
COLMES: Exactly. And, by the way, you referred to Barack Obama as "a nothing," and then you complain about the level of discourse in the United States.
From the December 15 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:
CARLSON: Time now for our daily "Obameter." There's no such thing as bad press, right? Even when you might be running for president and it involves talk of your ear size? Well, not true, says the senator, who apparently was annoyed with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd after she commented upon the size of his ears. He set her straight when he bumped into her after his speech in New Hampshire the other day. He told her, quote, "You talked about my ears and I just want to put you on notice. I'm very sensitive about [them]. ... I was teased relentlessly when I was a kid about my big ears." Maureen Dowd's response? Quote, "We're trying to toughen you up."
So, maybe he needs to toughen up. But apart from that, is he ready to take on the presidency? Joining me now is someone who says, "Absolutely, he is" -- Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks. Rosa, welcome.
BROOKS: Hi, Tucker.
CARLSON: What a sensitive little man!
BROOKS: Oh, I think you've got this totally wrong. He was teasing her.
CARLSON: You think so?
BROOKS: Yeah, I think he was teasing her, and she teased right back. It was a nice moment.
CARLSON: Huh. Well, if that's the case, you've defanged me immediately. If he's mocking Maureen Dowd --
BROOKS: I think he was, and I think he did a good job. And I think she came right back at him and that's all it is.
From a December 14 post on Hang Right Politics:
Are you kidding me? This guy wants to be President of the United States but he can't handle being teased about his ears? Oh man, Hillary's attack squads are going to eat him alive if that's the case. Side note: you have to go to Rush's site to see the "picture" of Sen. Obama he has there. ... You can also click on the link provided at his website to hear the Obama/Dowd exchange for yourself.
Ladies and gentlemen, we live in dangerous times in a very dangerous world. We need someone in the presidency who won't get his feelings hurt when his ears are picked on. Sen. Obama could be a serious contender for the Democrats. But not until he "toughens up."
From a December 15 entry on Blogs for Bush:
This is their rising star? Can't even take a bit of teasing? Is Obama one of that pathetic species of politician who is kept up at night over a hostile lead article in the newspaper? This man is starting to carry the hopes and dreams of the Democratic Party -- and it should be kept in mind that he's an unspectacular Chicago pol (with all that entails) who has been in the Senate for less than two years. He has no executive experience, and there is a serious move in Democratic circles to catapult him into the most powerful office on earth.
The unserious nature of the Democratic Party is doubly exposed here -- that a neophyte like this is considered Presidential timber, and that this alleged Presidential material is oversensitive to slights.
From a December 15 entry on The Radio Equalizer:
Is Senator Barack Hussein Obama (D- Ill) now so accustomed to fawning press coverage that even the slightest bit of criticism can send him racing toward the offending party in a state of sheer anger?
And with his vague stances and mindless platitudes, should this first-term politician really be taken seriously as he seeks the presidency? After all, it takes a very thick skin to be president, even more than it does to be a radio talk host!
You might expect the objects of Obama's scorn to be right-wing critics, but as Rush Limbaugh pointed out today, it was actually liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that found herself on his bad side.
Note to mainstream media types: don't tease Obama about his ears.