I wonder how Maureen Dowd feels now that her Sunday column shares space with a female pundit who actually takes the trouble to think about an issue and marshal a few arguments? I don’t agree with Barbara Ehrenreich, who’s a guest columnist on the New York Times op-ed pages through July, any more than I agree with Dowd. But Ehrenreich is an elegant writer who respects her readers’ intelligence enough to realize that cute alliteration, tossed-in pop culture references and a few phone calls to friends do not an op-ed make.

Consider Ehrenreich’s July 4 column, in which she links Declaration of Independence complaints about King George III (“depriving us in many cases of Trial by Jury”) to current accusations against “Our George II [who] has sought to evade judicial review by hiding detainees in Guantanamo…” And compare that to a similarly parallel-finding column Dowd wrote on June 13, which contrasted Ronald Reagan’s state funeral in Washington to Katharine Hepburn’s estate auction at Sotheby’s.

I don’t share Ehrenreich’s opinion of President Bush or the Patriot Act, and I didn’t find her column convincing. But look, making a connection between the two Georges was a smart idea for a July 4 piece. Ehrenreich is also a competent enough debater to anticipate and address objections by the fourth graph — “It would be silly, of course, to overstate the parallels between 1776 and 2004,” she writes, discussing the differences before returning to the parallels — something Dowd never respects her readers enough to do.

Ronald Reagan and Katharine Hepburn, though…what on earth does a strained connection between them (and there really is no connection, other than that they both lived long lives, worked in Hollywood and recently died) have to do with anything?

Nothing, except that they both happened to catch Dowd’s fancy that week. Her insightful observations included this: “He was famous for starring in a movie with a chimp; she was famous for starring in a movie with a leopard.” (Uh, I don’t think that’s exactly what either Reagan or Hepburn were famous for.) And the column continues in that typically flitty way before mercifully concluding: “The Connecticut Yankee was a great businesswoman in her final deal, as the California cowboy departed into the sunset on his final ride.”

Well, OK, Maureen, if you say so.

This past month really wasn’t a particularly inane one for Dowd, all things considered; she just looks sillier than usual now that Ehrenreich, a fellow traveler who actually knows where she’s going, is on the same page. Her recent efforts have been noteworthy, though, for the way her old Clinton-bashing has been transformed into Clinton-defending — now that Dowd considers the former President so much better than our current one.

“I didn’t appreciate the ’60s in high school,” Dowd began her July 4 column. She didn’t appreciate Bill Clinton when he was president either, but it seems that now she does. The column gives Clinton and his book-tour critiques of the current Administration a pass but adds: “Once they returned to power, the Bush II team, dripping with contempt for Bill Clinton and oozing with ‘we know best’ cockiness, thought they could use the sacking of Saddam to change the way Americans saw themselves…” (I guess the contempt Dowd had for Clinton in the ’90s was the nice kind that didn’t drip or ooze.)

When Clinton famously told Dan Rather last month that he dallied with Monica Lewinsky “just because I could,” I considered that a remarkable moment. Even out of office, Clinton is still able to find fresh ways to degrade the United States presidency — now he’s reduced it to the level of why dogs lick themselves. In her June 20 column, however, Dowd saw Clinton’s motives as at least better than why the Bush administration invaded Iraq: “They went after Saddam just because they could.”

Unlike Michael Moore in his new screedomentary “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Dowd doesn’t (quite) go so far as to suggest that Iraq before the invasion was a children’s paradise of peaceful, kite-flying families and happy shoppers until the U.S. began dropping bombs. She does, however, come up with this doozy: “The Bush team knew that it wouldn’t be hard to get rid of the second-rate dictator and romance novelist.” As if Saddam Hussein were merely a comically lowbrow, somewhat imperious figure, like Danielle Steele.

Then Dowd asks: “If our leaders didn’t lead us there, why did 69 percent of Americans, in a Washington Post poll last September, believe that Saddam was involved in the [Sept. 11] attacks? And a University of Maryland study last October showed that 80 percent of those who mostly watched Fox believed at least one of three misconceptions: that WMD had been found; that Al Qaeda and Iraq were tied; or that the world had approved of U.S. intervention in Iraq?”

And if they read Maureen Dowd instead, Americans would believe…what, I wonder? Maybe that (to quote from her June 10 column) “the Bush crew conducted its Iraq adventurism with a noir and bullying tone.” (You mean, like, it was shot in black-and-white?) Or that, when “Alexander Haig told Pat Robertson yesterday, Mr. Reagan won the cold war without a shot,” this was (as Dowd implies and seems to think) a Haig quote instead a Margaret Thatcher quote repeated by Haig.

Or that — this is her conclusion and apparently the moral of the June 10 column — “Whether he is right or wrong, George W. Bush is a bummer.”

Sounds like Dowd did appreciate the ’60s, man.

Catherine Seipp is a writer, and she blogs at her website “Cathy’s World.”