This month our intrepid MoDo Watcher Catherine Seipp addresses an important question: Are there jokes so bad that even Maureen Dowd won’t make them?

One of the side effects of reading Maureen Dowd more closely than any human being should is that not only do you catch every one of her adorable bits of wordplay, you even begin to see — beneath the text, like pentimento in a painting — the jokes she probably considered but rejected as just too cute. Take her Feb. 5 column comparing Michael Powell “trying to save America’s virtue” at the FCC while his father Colin Powell “is trying to save his own virtue” at the State Dept.

Well, I guess that’s a reasonable connection. The Powells are father and son, and Janet Jackson’s exposed breast happened during the (undiscovered) Weapons of Mass Destruction fallout, so let’s see: They’re from the same family, but they’re concerned with different things, therefore’uh…uh…OK, here we go:

“The son opened an inquiry into something everyone had already seen, as the father defended his speech making the case for war based on something nobody has seen.” Good one! (And never mind that we’d seen plenty of other things: Saddam’s history of gassing his own people, the torture chambers, the megalomaniacal habit of military expansion, etc.) And then: “Who could have guessed that Saddam’s WMD would be less scary than Ms. Jackson’s pierced metal sunburst, a Weapon of Mammary Destruction?”

Bah-da-boom. In Hollywood, this is where we begin flashing APPLAUSE signs and sweetening the laugh track.

Dowd goes on to quote a rare unfunny Jon Stewart observation: “A government so reluctant to investigate intelligence lapses [yet] is so eager to investigate a breast lapse.” (Maybe she just lacks Stewart’s delivery.) And here’s where I think I saw her considering, and then rejecting, yet another clever connection. Bombs, breasts…hmm…what else begins with B? Oh! Say, good thing Janet didn’t also reveal her…nope, better not go there. This is the New York Times, after all. They don’t even like it when you say “geez” on the op-ed page.

Why do I suspect she was thinking of making this joke? Other than that reading Maureen Dowd so closely is making me lose my mind even as it also makes me all too aware of how her mind works? Because, for one thing, the name “Bush” does not appear even once in this column, which is pretty strange. Dowd will work in something about Bush and his failings even when her topic starts out being a new TV show about lesbians. But I guess she thought it better to stay away from any possible double-entendres about the president’s last name. That Weapon of Mammary Destruction line was amusingly risqu’ enough.

And the puns continue. “All they needed for their belli was a casus, so Mr. Chalabi obligingly conned the neo-cons,” Dowd wrote in a Feb. 15 column about Ahmad Chalabi called “The Thief of Baghdad.” “How does a country that goes to war to disarm a country without arms get back its face?” she asked Feb. 12 in “The Khan Artist.” I guess that was an anatomy joke. But was Iraq actually unarmed? You’d think from her tone we’d invaded Switzerland.

You can tell when Dowd is really worked up because she descends from strained wordplay into tortured mixed metaphors. “[Chalabi] hoodwinked his pals Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle into believing Iraq would be a flowery cakewalk to democracy,” she wrote in the “Thief of Baghdad” column. I don’t think anyone ever claimed that Iraq would be a flowery cakewalk, a cream-filled pastry of a polka, or however else Dowd might imagine it. But her constant tittering about foreign policy is beginning to remind me of William Joyce, the British fascist who thought his country’s fight against Hitler pointless. His infamous, Jew-baiting World War II radio taunts earned him the nickname Lord Haw-Haw.

Now of course I don’t believe that Maureen Dowd is anything close to a traitor; she’s not even much of a Jew-baiter compared to many of her sympathizers. Nevertheless, there’s something about her endless, self-amused sniping at “neo-cons” — a new code word if there ever was one — that does harken back to Joyce and his snickering fantasies about Jewish international financiers. Dowd isn’t quite Lord Haw-Haw. But history may remember her as Lady Tee-Hee.