Molly Ivins, Texas born and raised, closely observed local and national politics and edited and wrote for newspapers. She died last week, just before her last column appeared in print. Pretty tough lady, to keep creating her astonishingly witty column right through the last days of battling “a scorching case of breast cancer”. Most people never saw her stuff. Too bad. She was real smart, and she’s real fun to read.
How often are you provoked to laugh out loud at a humorous insight while you read your newspaper? Molly could tickle a knee-slappin’, get-up-and-walk-around laugh out of anyone who wasn’t “cross-threaded between the ears”. If you simultaneously shook your belly and learned things that illuminated how and why things are the way they are, would you come back for more? Sure you would. It’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t resonate with her down home, frank, fresh humor and insight.
And you’d come back if your newspaper carried her column. Which it probably didn’t, though she was nationally syndicated. Her wit liberally punctured pretensions and privilege, and repeatedly clapped hypocrisy in the stocks in the public square. Molly was just too hot for those stuffed shirts downtown to handle, who “couldn’t pour water out of a boot if the instructions was on the heel”.
To Molly, politics in the U.S.A. is nothing if not entertaining, and she found endless material and used it masterfully to make her case. At the time of the bicentennial of the Constitution, she characterized the strict constructionist, still wet behind the ears, talking heads that appeared on TV as “distinguished by an air of premature pomposity… What’s really astounding about these brickheads who claim to be in touch with the original intent of the founders”, she wrote, “is … you know damn well if they had been alive at the time of the American Revolution, they all would have been Tories.”
Molly started writing at and editing the Texas Observer, moved on to better pay and heavy-handed censorship at the New York Times as long as she could stand it, then returned to Texas and free-wheeling journalism at the Dallas Times-Herald and the Fort Worth Star.
Molly informed us when the Lubbock city council responded at last to citizens upset with the stench of a feedlot there by hanging “an Air-wick bottle on every fencepost around the feedlot.”
She reported the passage by the Texas legislature of a resolution honoring an individual for his efforts in the field of population control. (The named individual happened to be the Boston Strangler, and the resolution was introduced on April 1 by a maverick that wanted to make a point about legislators not reading before voting.)
Molly enthusiastically relished the national political conventions. “Upon hearing that Phyllis Schlafly, the most serious case of Episcopal thighs in America, was giving a party with the theme of ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler,’ I rushed to the scene. There was Schlafly, carefully posed on a marble staircase at the New Orleans Museum of Art, greeting her guests in front of a full-length portrait of Marie Antoinette.
“Was it possible I’d been underestimating her all these years – perhaps she has a sense of humor after all. ‘Let them eat salmon pate,’ she would announce. But no…” Etc.
It was Molly Ivins who pointed out that the entire population of Grenada (the Central American country invaded by the U.S. military for no reason other than to re-establish the mantle of “Manifest Destiny”, and place a “tough guy” cosmetic on Ronald Reagan, to the hoorays of the cheerleaders of imperialism) was 86,000 souls. For comparison, that is precisely the population of Ozaukee County, Wisconsin.
Molly explained how she herself had turned out “this peculiar … having been properly reared by a right-wing family in East Texas.” First, she said, “I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point – race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.
“The first great movement to come along in my lifetime was the civil rights movement, and I was for it. The second great question was the war in Vietnam, and I was against it. … Later on, people took to claiming it meant I was for big government, high taxes, and communism. That’s when I learned never to let anyone else define my politics. …
“… When you start out in a culture that defines your role as standing on the sidelines with pom-poms cheering while the guys get to play the game, it will raise a few questions in your mind. Another problem is my size. It wasn’t ever that I rejected the norms of Southern womanhood. I was just ineligible… It’s hard to be cute if you’re six feet tall.
“The other problem is that I was a reader…”
Molly joked that the reason Texans wear cowboy boots was so they could stomp cockroaches in corners. Molly’s humor rode easily. Most Texans can handle humor as well as truth about themselves pretty well. Northerners are generally able to handle humor about Texans and pointy-toed boots, too. But they tend to harbor a blind spot for their own regional foibles, and to bristle at comments about pointiness on the cranial end. As Molly noted, “The extent to which a Southern accent is associated with low IQ in American popular culture is hard to exaggerate.” And influential persons who claim to uphold democratic values are actually currently contemplating politically writing off, and alienating, entire regions of the country.
A political party that represents, at its core, the interests of big corporations and the super-rich can and must make Machiavellian calculations and divide people against themselves using wedge issues. But a political party that truly represents the people and their common needs, hopes, and values, cannot follow that strategy. It cannot dismiss the people of an entire county, much less an entire region of the country. That is both abdication of the moral high ground and suicide by stupidity.
Molly Ivins was here to tell us we dasn’t do that. Not if we want to keep laughing.
She’s off now to swap a dig in the ribs and a stiff snort with Sam Clemens. Hasta la vista, Molly.
(Qoutations in italics above are Molly’s own words.)
February 10, 2007