In this month’s MODO WATCH, our intrepid CATHERINE SEIPP continues to address the big MoDo question: Is MoDo is out of her mind?

Catherine’s thoughts on the subject: 

Maureen Dowd returned from several weeks vacation Jan. 8 with a column that swung from President Bush to lesbians and back again and left readers scratching their heads even more than usual. As Glenn Reynolds put it in his piece on Dowd’s “Tizzy Over Lezzies” musings: “What was it about? Beats me.”

Dowd hooked her return column — which had something to do with the paradox of George W. Bush’s popularity even as lesbians are no longer considered outre — around the premiere of a new Showtime series called “The L Word.” The connection was just too deliciously amusing for Dowd, because, you see, “L” is a letter, and “W” is a letter, and therefore, Dowd concluded: “It’s hard to figure, but America seems ready to embrace W. and the L word at the same time.”

Get it? Not everyone did, judging from the confused comments in the blogosphere. Apparently readers found it hard to remember, by the time Dowd had flitted down to her finish line, that the “L” in the L word stands for lesbians. She’d explained it just a few graphs before, but there’s something about a Dowd column that makes the mind wander. Attention, class!

But even those with a vested interest missed Dowd’s “Tizzy Over Lezzies” point, if she did have one, to borrow a tizzy Ellen DeGeneres phrase. As it happens, the day after Dowd’s Bush/lesbians/whatever piece ran, Showtime presented its new midseason programming at the twice-yearly TV press tour in Hollywood, which I attended. Dowd is usually at this press tour herself, but she skipped it this time to concentrate on the Presidential campaign.

“You know something must be happening when Maureen Dowd mentions George W. Bush and ‘The L Word’ in the same sentence — both favorably, I might add,” a Showtime exec announced.

Of course, Dowd hadn’t mentioned Bush favorably — she never does — but “The L Word” people hadn’t understood that, and obviously it didn’t matter, especially here in Hollywood.

As the Showtime exec chattered happily on, I realized that this was something of a watershed Maureen Dowd moment. Now it was (sort of) official:

No one reads Maureen Dowd anymore for analysis, or insight, or even simple sense. They just read her because she’s there, in the New York Times, like the weather report.

On the other hand, Dowd also demonstrates confusion in her assumption that a pay cable series means that the dating adventures of lesbians now play in Peoria. As the Showtime exec who mentioned Dowd’s column shrugged a few minutes later about different standards for broadcast and Showtime-style programming, and the comparative sizes of these audiences: “Premium TV is premium TV.”

Anyway, I’m happy to see Dowd covering an election campaign again. She’s finally back on a topic she knows something about – politicians and how they and their wives dress – instead of (God help us) foreign policy, which has been her cringe-inducing focus these past couple of years.

“Can we trust a man who muffs his mufti?” she opened her Jan. 11 column, “The Argyle General,” about Gen. Wesley Clark and his argyle sweaters. Sometimes I think there must a little insect sitting on Dowd’s shoulder constantly whispering wordplay suggestions, like the “Through the Looking-Glass” beetle who kept annoying Alice with comments like, “You might make a joke on that — something to do with ‘horse’ and ‘hoarse,’ you know.”

Alice, you may recall, quickly got annoyed and snapped, “If you’re so anxious to have a joke made, why don’t you make one yourself?” Maureen just listens to that buzzing near her ear and dutifully scribbles down semi-clever phrases that she evidently thinks are very clever.

Such as that “physician, heal thy spouse” tag line for her Jan. 15 “The Doctor Is Out” column about Howard Dean’s wife, a practicing medical doctor who, Dowd tells us, wears jeans and sneakers and looks “like a crunchy Vermont hippie.” Dowd got a lot of flack for this column, in which she described how Judith Steinberg Dean has been missing from her husband’s campaign and suggested that Dean “could use a character witness on the road.”

But except for that imperative “heal thy spouse” ending, Dowd never said that Judith Dean ought to help her husband’s presidential aspirations — only that it would be useful to him if she did, as indeed it probably would. Her closing line undermined her column, but Dowd couldn’t resist using it anyway, which is typical of her weakness as a writer.

Still, reading Dowd natter away about candidates’ wives or wardrobes is by now something of a relief. And there’s nothing wrong with describing how people dress. I myself once noted that the peculiarly schlumpy goin’-to-California getups Dowd often affects when she visits Hollywood reveal her essential condescension.

I actually found “The Argyle General” her least objectionable column in months. Wesley Clark’s plaids, Jimmy Carter’s cardigans, Michael Dukakis’s brown suede jacket…if Dowd wants to take us on a tour of candidates’ closets past and present, fine. At least she’s not being silly about Iraq.