May Profile: Molly Ivins

There are some who could argue the issues we face today are not all that new.  But one thing that has changed dramatically, even in just a few short years, is how those issues are discussed, especially in print.  The conversations have turned ugly and downright nasty.  Humor and satire in print are rare ingredients in the political conversation mix today.

How desperately we miss the wisdom and wit of the late Molly Ivins, who died in 2007 after an eight-year battle with breast cancer.  For any woman who has struggled with the horror of breast cancer treatments, no better summation could be found than what Molly said: “First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.”

Molly Ivins: It's like, duh. Just when you thought there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the two parties, the Republicans go and prove you're wrong.

Born in California, but raised in Texas, Ivins had a sharp political wit second to none and her pursuit of populist ideals was relentless.  She received her undergraduate degree from Smith College, and her Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University in 1967.  She worked at dailies from New York to Minnesota to Colorado covering politics in her inimitable fashion.  Link here for great eulogies from the Dallas Observer and The New York Times for deeper insights into this remarkable woman who embodied honesty, a passion for life and a love of country.

Molly came from the same genre as John Henry Faulk and Jim Hightower – Texas liberals and progressives (yes, they once did dominate the political landscape of the Lone Star State).  Although she had a national following, with a syndicated column and having worked for The New York Times, Newsweek and Time, her heart and soul was Texas politics.

In addition to book compilations of her brilliant, hilarious columns, she co-authored, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush and Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America.  She was working on a book documenting the Bush administration’s assault on the Bill of Rights when she died.  She once said of George W. Bush:  “Calling Bush shallow is like calling a dwarf short.”  Or adding this:  “Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.”

She famously nicknamed Texas Governor Rick Perry, Governor Good Hair. And her unrelenting commentaries on Tom DeLay (Texas Congressman and former Speaker of the House), foreshadowed his fall from grace and eventual conviction for money laundering in 2011.  In 1999, Ivins wrote of DeLay

“His real constituency is the lobbying corps, and the sleazy smell that rises from their vigorous cooperation is another reason for DeLay’s vulnerability.  His motto is blunt: ‘If you want to play in our revolution, you have to live by our rules.’ DeLay’s rules are upfront, apparent to anyone who cares to look.  On his desk he keeps a list of the 400 largest political action committees and the amounts and percentages they’ve contributed to Republicans and Democrats.  Those committees that have given heavily to the GOP are labeled ‘friendly,’ the others ‘unfriendly.’  He also pressures corporations and trade groups to fire Democrats and hire Republicans as their lobbyists.”

Her belief in the constitution and in people to reclaim their role as active citizens was a constant and dominated much of her later writings.  Her introduction to Who Let The Dogs In?, written in 2004 (after the country re-elected George W. Bush and was in the midst of the Iraq War which she vehemently opposed) expressed her frustration and her hope.

“I guess the most amazing refrain is that I still love politics, and I think politics matters to every American in more ways than most of them ever guess.  Also, I still think it’s funny.  I consider that especially moving testimony, given that American politics is in a state of open corruption and intellectual rot.

“Because I have been writing about politics for 40 years, I know where the cynicism comes from, and I would not presume to tell you it is misplaced.  The system is so screwed up, if you think it’s not worth participating in, then give yourself credit for being alert.  But not for being smart.  How smart is it to throw away the most magnificent political legacy any people ever received? 

“You can not only vote, you can register other people to vote, round up your friends, get out and do political education, talk to people, laugh with people, call the radio, write the paper, write your elected representatives, use your email list, put up signs, march, volunteer and raise hell…We won the cold war after 50 years, and suddenly our politics is sour, angry, ugly, full of people who can’t discuss public affairs without getting all red in the face….

“Plenty of blame to go around for this revolting development, but those who deliberately corrupt our language for political advantage deserve some special ring in hell.  One is Rush Limbaugh, a silly man.  Another is Newt Gingrich, who has done much to poison the well of public debate…

“But I think the far more damaging is the planned, corporately funded, interlocking web of propaganda – the think tanks underwritten by corporate funders, the ‘academic journals’ underwritten by corporate funders, and right wing newspapers, radio, and television not to mention low-life, bottom feeding scandal mongers, all funded by huge right-wing money… 

“Benito Mussolini, who knew whereof he spoke, said, ‘Fascism should more properly be called corporation, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.’  So Stanley, a fine mess you’ve gotten us into this time…(but) Rejoice beloveds, we’ll weather this brush with fascism and come out as noisy and as badly behaved as ever, our politics back to the usual national Roller Derby.  As Marianne Moore said, ‘It is an honor to witness so much confusion.”

Fighting with her pen until the end, one of her final columns continued her unabashed opposition to George Bush’s Iraq war:

“We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war.  We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, ‘Stop it, now!’

With the Occupy Movement gearing up for another run at corporate greed and opposition to war, one knows that the spirit of Molly Ivins will be with them, every step of the way.




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