January 31 2007
Syndicated columnist Molly Ivins dies at 62
Best-selling author, sharp-witted Texas liberal succumbs to breast cancer
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and read also Keep up the resistance. Let's do it for Molly
Syndicated columnist Molly Ivins poses for a portrait at her home Sept. 22 in Austin, Texas. She died Wednesday at 62 after a long battle with breast cancer (Taylor Jones / AP file)
AUSTIN, Texas - Best-selling author and columnist Molly Ivins, the sharp-witted liberal who skewered the political establishment and referred to President Bush as “Shrub,” died Wednesday after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 62.
David Pasztor, managing editor of the Texas Observer, confirmed her death.
The writer, who made a living poking fun at Texas politicians, whether they were in her home base of Austin or the White House, revealed in early 2006 that she was being treated for breast cancer for the third time.
More than 400 newspapers subscribed to her nationally syndicated column, which combined strong liberal views and populist-toned humor. Ivins’ illness did not seem to hurt her ability to deliver biting one-liners.
“I’m sorry to say (cancer) can kill you, but it doesn’t make you a better person,” she said in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News in September, the same month cancer claimed her friend former Gov. Ann Richards.
To Ivins, "liberal" was no insult. "Even I felt sorry for Richard Nixon when he left; there's nothing you can do about being born liberal fish gotta swim and hearts gotta bleed," she wrote in a column included in her 1998 collection, "You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You."
In a column in mid-January, Ivins urged readers to stand up against Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq.
"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," Ivins wrote in the Jan. 11 column. "We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, 'Stop it, now!'"
Ivins' best-selling books included those she co-authored with Lou Dubose about Bush. One was titled "Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush" and another was "BUSHWHACKED: Life in George W. Bush's America."
Ivins' jolting satire was directed at people in positions of power. She maintained that aiming it at the powerless would be cruel.
"The trouble with blaming powerless people is that although it's not nearly as scary as blaming the powerful, it does miss the point," she wrote in a 1997 column. "Poor people do not shut down factories,... Poor people didn't decide to use `contract employees' because they cost less and don't get any benefits."
© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Monday February 5 2007
Ivins treasured for wit, resolve
Family, friends pay tribute to a Texas original who had no trouble speaking her mind
Friends of Molly Ivins enjoy Marica Ball's performance of Great Balls of Fire (Rodolfo Gonzalez: AP)
AUSTIN Texas journalist Molly Ivins was relentless in pursuing justice and defending the powerless, yet never lost her optimism and sense of fun, family and friends said as they celebrated her life Sunday.
In a laughter-filled church memorial service that finished with Austin blues musician Marcia Ball performing "Great Balls of Fire," hundreds of admirers clapped and cheered Ivins' words and spirit.
Ivins, who died Wednesday at age 62 after a long battle with breast cancer, smiled down on the crowd from a portrait at the front of First United Methodist Church as numerous friends and family members read from her writings and told funny stories of their adventures with her.
Career spanned the state
Her friend Linda Lewis brought the crowd to its feet in long applause when she repeated one particular quip from Ivins: "The next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please, pay attention."
But the best-selling author and syndicated columnist, a Texas liberal who delighted in skewering Republican politicians, particularly President Bush, drew praise even from those she criticized most.
Bush, whom Ivins referred to as "Shrub," issued a statement after her death saying she was a Texas original. He said he respected her convictions and "her passionate belief in the power of words, and her ability to turn a phrase."
Ivins' career included working at the Houston Chronicle, the Minneapolis Tribune, the liberal biweekly The Texas Observer and The New York Times.
Then she became a columnist for the Dallas Times-Herald and later the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In 2001, she went independent and wrote her column for Creators Syndicate.
Numerous former journalism colleagues packed the church Sunday a block from the Texas Capitol, where so many of the politicians she poked fun at spend their days. The celebration then moved to Scholz Garden, a famous spot for telling stories and drinking beer near the University of Texas campus.
January 31 2007
Goodbye, Molly I.
Molly Ivins, 1944-2007
By Anthony Zurcher
Molly Ivins is gone, and her words will never grace these pages again -- for this, we will mourn. But Molly wasn't the type of woman who would want us to grieve. More likely, she'd say something like, "Hang in there, keep fightin' for freedom, raise more hell, and don't forget to laugh, too."
If there was one thing Molly wanted us to understand, it's that the world of politics is absurd. Since we can't cry, we might as well laugh. And in case we ever forgot, Molly would remind us, several times a week, in her own unique style.
Shortly after becoming editor of Molly Ivins' syndicated column, I learned one of my most important jobs was to tell her newspaper clients that, yes, Molly meant to write it that way. We called her linguistic peculiarities "Molly-isms." Administration officials were "Bushies," government was in fact spelled "guvment," business was "bidness." And if someone was "madder than a peach orchard boar," well, he was quite mad indeed.
Of course, having grown up in Texas, all of this made sense to me. But to newspaper editors in Seattle, Chicago, Detroit and beyond -- Yankee land, as Molly would say -- her folksy language could be a mystery. "That's just Molly being Molly," I would explain and leave it at that.
But there was more to Molly Ivins than insightful political commentary packaged in an aw-shucks Southern charm. In the coming days, much will be made of Molly's contributions to the liberal cause, how important she was as an authentic female voice on opinion pages across the country, her passionate and eloquent defense of the poorest and the weakest among us against the corruption of the most powerful, and the joy she took in celebrating the uniqueness of American culture -- and all of this is true. But more than that, Molly Ivins was a woman who loved and cared deeply for the world around her. And her warm and generous spirit was apparent in all her words and deeds.
Molly's work was truly her passion. She would regularly turn down lucrative speaking engagements to give rally-the-troops speeches at liberalism's loneliest outposts. And when she did rub elbows with the highfalutin' well-to-do, the encounter would invariably end up as comedic grist in future columns.
For a woman who made a profession of offering her opinion to others, Molly was remarkably humble. She was known for hosting unforgettable parties at her Austin home, which would feature rollicking political discussions, and impromptu poetry recitals and satirical songs. At one such event, I noticed her dining table was littered with various awards and distinguished speaker plaques, put to use as trivets for steaming plates of tamales, chili and fajita meat. When I called this to her attention, Molly matter-of-factly replied, "Well, what else am I going to do with 'em?"
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Molly's life is the love she engendered from her legions of fans. If Molly missed a column for any reason, her newspapers would hear about it the next day. As word of Molly's illness spread, the letters, cards, e-mails and gifts poured in.
Even as Molly fought her last battle with cancer, she continued to make public appearances. When she was too weak to write, she dictated her final two columns. Although her body was failing, she still had so much to say. Last fall, before an audience at the University of Texas, her voice began as barely a whisper. But as she went on, she drew strength from the standing-room-only crowd until, at the end of the hour, she was forcefully imploring the students to get involved and make a difference. As Molly once wrote, "Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television sitcom that you can decide you don't much care for."
For me, Molly's greatest words of wisdom came with three children's books she gave my son when he was born. In her inimitable way, she captured the spirit of each in one-sentence inscriptions. In "Alice in Wonderland," she offered, "Here's to six impossible things before breakfast." For "The Wind in the Willows," it was, "May you have Toad's zest for life." And in "The Little Prince," she wrote, "May your heart always see clearly."
Like the Little Prince, Molly Ivins has left us for a journey of her own. But while she was here, her heart never failed to see clear and true -- and for that, we can all be grateful.
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
Molly Ivins' final column, "Stand Up Against the Surge," is available here. Use the calendar below to navigate through her columns from 2006.
January 31 2007
Syndicated political columnist Molly Ivins died of breast cancer Wednesday evening at her home in Austin. She was 62 years old, and had much, much more to give this world.
She remained cheerful despite Texas politics. She emphasized the more hilarious aspects of both state and national government, and consequently never had to write fiction. She said, “Good thing we’ve still got politics—finest form of free entertainment ever invented.”
Molly had a large family, many namesakes, hundreds of close friends, thousands of colleagues and hundreds of thousands of readers.
She and her two siblings, Sara (Ivins) Maley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Andy Ivins of London, Texas, grew up in Houston. Her father, James Ivins, was a corporate lawyer and a Republican, which meant she always had someone to disagree with over the dinner table. Her mother, Margot, was a homemaker with a B.A. in psychology from Smith College.
In addition to her brother and sister, Molly is survived by sister-in-law Carla Ivins, nephew Drew and niece Darby; niece Margot Hutchison and her husband, Neil, and their children Sam, Andy and Charlie of San Diego, Calif. and nephew Paul Maley and his wife, Karianna, and their children Marty, Anneli and Finnbar of Eltham, Victoria, Australia.
Molly followed her mother to Smith and received a B.A. in 1966, followed by an M.A. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and an honorary doctorate from Haverford College.
Her full list of books and awards will be abbreviated here. In addition to compilations of her brilliant, hilarious liberal columns, she wrote with Lou Dubose Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (Random House 2000) and Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America (Random House 2003). She was working on a Random House book documenting the Bush administration’s assault on the Bill of Rights when she died.
Molly, being practical, used many of her most prestigious awards as trivets while serving exquisite French dishes at her dinner parties. Her awards include the William Allen White Award from the University of Kansas, the Eugene V. Debs award in the field of journalism, many awards for advocacy of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the David Nyhan Prize from the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School at Harvard.
Although short, Molly’s life was writ large. She was as eloquent a speaker and teacher as she was a writer, and her quips will last at least as long as Will Rogers’. She dubbed George W. Bush “Shrub” and Texas Governor Rick Perry “Good Hair.”
Molly always said in her official résumé that the two honors she valued the most were (1) when the Minneapolis Police Department named their mascot pig after her (She was covering the police beat at the time.) and (2) when she was banned from speaking on the Texas A&M University campus at least once during her years as co-editor of The Texas Observer (1970-76). However, she said with great sincerity that she would be proudest of all to die sober, and she did.
She worked as a reporter for The New York Times (1976-82) in New York and Albany and later as Rocky Mountain Bureau Chief covering nine mountain states by herself. After working for the staid Times where she was heavily edited, Molly cut loose and became a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald. When the Herald folded, she signed on as a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In 2001, she became syndicated, eventually appearing in 400 newspapers.
She never lost her love for The Texas Observer or her conviction that a free society relies on public-interest journalism. She found that brand of journalism the most fun.
In recent years she shamelessly used her national and international contacts to raise funds for the Observer, which has always survived on a shoestring. More than $400,000 was contributed to the feisty little journal at a roast honoring Molly in Austin October 8.
Molly’s enduring message is, “Raise more hell.”
To read more about Molly Ivins or to make a comment about her, go to www.texasobserver.org. Tax-deductible contributions in her honor may be made to The Texas Observer, 307 West Seventh Street, Austin, TX 78701 or the American Civil Liberties Union, 127 Broad Street, 18th floor, New York, NY 10004, www.aclu.org.
Memorial services will be announced in the coming days.
To Our Readers and Friends
Molly Ivins left her editor's chair at The Texas Observer more than 30 years ago and went on to play a larger stage. But she never left us behind. She remained convinced that Texas needed a progressive, independent voice to call the powerful to account and to stand up for the common folk. She kept our voice alive. More than once, when the paper was on the brink of insolvency, she delivered speeches and gave us the honorariums. She donated royalties from her best-selling book Shrub to keep the doors open. Her determination and efforts sustained the Observer as a magazine, as a family, and as a community.
Molly was a hero. She was a mentor. She was a liberal. She was a patriot. She was a friend. And she always will be. With Molly's death we have lost someone we hold dear. What she has left behind we will hold dearer still.
Despite her failing health, and an impending ice storm, Molly insisted on being driven to the Observer’s most recent public event in early January so she could thank our supporters.
Observer writers are useful, she explained to the crowd, in much the same way as good hunting dogs. Turn them loose, let them hunt. When they return with their prey, pat them on the head, say a few words of praise, and set them loose to hunt again.
For the time being, our site will be dedicated to remembering Molly, her work, her wit, her contributions to the political discourse of a nation. We invite readers to submit their own thoughts and recollections, to say a few words of praise.
Then, we will return to the hunt.
February 1 2007
On Molly Ivins
I was going to write about the spineless resolution on the troop surge in Iraq that Carl Levin forged with John Warner today. But then Molly Ivins died after her own weary battle with breast cancer and, well, all hell broke loose. With her fierce and unrelenting criticism of Bush and his misadventures in Iraq, her death seemed too ironic and significant to let pass without comment.
I never met Molly Ivins, but she was an inspiration to me and a generation of other women reporters. I'd read one of Ivins' smart-mouthed political columns and think wickedly, Can you actually say that? And the answer was an astonishing yes. She was the only person besides my friend Sue, who once lived in Austin, who made me seriously consider taking a job in Texas.
Ivins was the first female political columnist to ascend from the trenches to become a star. In a profession dominated by self-important and uptight males, she was like a shot of Irish whiskey. Bracing and smart. But best of all she was tough and unafraid. She said what she thought and didn't apologize for it. She spoke for people who didn't have a voice. She was proud of being a liberal. Who else would have thought to call the Commander in Chief, the ersatz cowboy in Crawford, the self-described "Decider" "Shrub"? Ouch.
Even as she lay dying she continued to attack Bush's policies in Iraq.
Here is what Ivins wrote on January 11:
"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!'"
We also need a courageous bunch of Senators, ones who are willing to stop thinking about 2008 for a half second and take a stand. That's something Molly Ivins understood.
Now if only she were here to see it through.
Friday February 2 2007
The liberal warrior and beloved Texas columnist could, and did, say that.
Her greatest joy was bringing grief to those she considered too big for their britches or too small-brained to be bipeds often the same person. A self-confessed bleeding-heart liberal, her favorite targets were politicians, mostly of the Republican persuasion, and much of her scorn was reserved for her bête noire-in-chief, George W. Bush, whom she immortalized, and trivialized, as "Dubya" and "Shrub."
Molly Ivins' obituaries testify to her rapier-like wit, her razor-sharp barbs, her skewering, stinging, poking and puncturing of overinflated egos and venal ambitions: Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476) pales by comparison. The New York Times' choice of the elegant, Frenchified verb "filet" to describe her skill at gutting her enemies would have tickled her, since her six-year tenure at that paper ended when it became obvious that her raucous, earthy prose did not meet the standard of "All the News That's Fit to Print."
But it is striking that the same obits invariably celebrate her optimism and good humor, and anyone who ever met her, heard her speak or read her prolific output of reporting, columns and books could never doubt her respect and affection for the institutions and offices she delighted in kicking around, if not for the temporary occupants of same. One lovely irony of her 30-odd-year legacy is that, more than most other prominent Texans, she embodied the values the love of country, state, family and friends that so many of her victims so publicly claimed but so often betrayed.
Besides comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, another public service that Molly Ivins performed was to give the world a different view of what a Texan is. In many quarters, unfortunately, the stereotype has been of an ignorant, provincial hick or a gun-totin' cowboy shoot first and ask questions later. In Ivins, the world saw an educated, urbane, funny, fearless and compassionate Texan. There have always been such Texans, but they're not all women six-feet tall with a big, sassy, brilliant mouth, a twice-weekly column running in about 350 papers and a vibrant mass of red hair (till chemotherapy transformed it to a soft white veil).
After a diagnosis of breast cancer in 1999, which recurred several times and finally silenced her gifted voice this week, Ivins fought the disease publicly and gracefully, with humor and dignity, and never gave up on her life's work. In her last column last month, ill as she was, this populist Texan exhorted her readers to think and act for themselves: "We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. ... Raise hell."
And yes, even though she was born in some place called Monterey, out there on the left coast, she was a true Texan most of whom were not born here, either. She left, came back, left some more and finally came back for good. Good for her; good for Texas.
January 31 2007
Thank You, Molly Ivins
I was a cub reporter in Minneapolis -- the city where she'd cut her journalistic teeth a couple of decades earlier -- when I first met Molly Ivins.
It was one of those damp blue Midwestern early summer days, and we sat outside the clubhouse where she'd just given a reading, on wrought-iron chairs that she made look like doll furniture. She was tall, and incredibly red-headed, and the biggest personality I'd ever met; also gentle, and funny, and patient as I fumbled with my microphone and asked starstruck questions about her life, her politics, and the town we'd both covered. We compared notes about how remarkably venal and corrupt a city run by supposedly squeaky-clean Democrats could be when given half a chance, which having come of age in the Reagan years I'd somehow been too naive to expect.
Mostly, though, I didn't say anything: I just drank up what it was like to see a woman be sharply political and yet uproariously funny, unapologetic and uncompromising, completely confident with the good old boys and completely capable of beating them at their own game, and all this without even seeming to try very hard at all.
There were not many women writing like that in the 80s, which is why I dreamed of being Molly Ivins when I grew up; there still aren't many like her today, and magazines like Mother Jones are run and written overwhelmingly by men. Why? I don't know exactly: Because most women are not trained, as many men have been, to presume that the world is dying to hear what we have to say? Because having an outsized personality and convictions to match makes you lonely, as a woman more so than a man? Because so many of us, anxious to get along, learn to lace our opinions, even inadvertently, with qualifiers and fudges, with "I think"s and "I could be wrong, but"s?
Molly didn't fudge, but neither did she lecture: She just told you what she thought, and often it wasn't what you might have expected at a time when the left had grown timid and self-referential and obsessed with PC nuance. She went for the roundhouse punch when everyone else was busy wringing their hands, and she liked those -- Democrats, Republicans, men and women, good old boys and bad new girls -- willing to do the same. She made us laugh, and she made us smarter, and she cut through a lot of B.S.
Now it's time to thank her for it: As she wrote, in her very last column just a couple of weeks ago: "Raise hell." And have fun.
Molly was a contributor to Mother Jones for many years, and in the coming days, you'll hear more from the people who worked with her; we'll also have an archive of her stories for this magazine. For a quick sketch of her life, see Josh Harkinson's story HERE.
West Virginia February 2 2007
TOUGH, funny, bawdy, outrageous, liberal wit Molly Ivins finally succumbed to her third round of breast cancer, and America will be poorer without her. She was a brilliant, caring intellectual who hid her genius behind raucous wisecracks and blue-collar jargon.
She dubbed President Bush “Shrub” and said of his conservative team: “These people are not only dishonest — they’re not even smart.” She called Henry Kissinger “an old war criminal.” She called Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly “sludge-for-brains.”
She said Republicans smeared former President Clinton “with the frenzy of a foaming mad dog.” Regarding a Texas GOP congressman, she wrote: “If his IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.”
Across America Thursday, genuine sadness was voiced by many admirers who read her sardonic columns in 400 U.S. newspapers, including this one.
The Nation magazine called her “the warmest-hearted populist ever to pick up a pen with the purpose of calling the rabble to the battlements.” Texas Democratic leader Matt Angle said: “She could deflate a puffed-up politician better than anyone I’ve known.” Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, said “she tried to make a kind of crazy world understandable through humor.”
In 1994, Ivins was the first speaker in Charleston’s W.E. “Ned” Chilton III Leadership Lecture series, named for this paper’s late publisher. After regaling the overflow crowd with bawdy tales, she said: “The reason I loved Ned Chilton is that Ned believed journalism should have values.”
Thursday, her editor at Creators Syndicate wrote: “If there was one thing Molly wanted us to understand, it’s that the world of politics is absurd. Since we can’t cry, we might as well laugh.” He added that Ivins would want no mourning at her death, but would tell people:
“Hang in there, keep fightin’ for freedom, raise more hell, and don’t forget to laugh too.”
January 31 2007
Remembering Molly Ivins
Editor's Note: In the coming days, The Nation will continue to add entries to this series of tributes to Molly Ivins, a writer of passion and principle and a longtime friend of the magazine.
Washington Correspondent, The Nation
Molly Ivins always said she wanted to write a book about the lonely experience of East Texas civil rights campaigners to be titled No One Famous Ever Came. While the television screens and newspapers told the stories of the marches, the legal battles and the victories of campaigns against segregation in Alabama and Mississippi, Ivins recalled, the foes of Jim Crow laws in the region where she came of age in the 1950s and '60s often labored in obscurity without any hope that they would be joined on the picket lines by Nobel Peace Prize winners, folk singers, Hollywood stars or senators.
And Ivins loved those righteous strugglers all the more for their willingness to carry on.
The warmest-hearted populist ever to pick up a pen with the purpose of calling the rabble to the battlements, Ivins understood that change came only when some citizen in some off-the-map town passed a petition, called a Congressman or cast an angry vote to throw the bums out. The nation's most widely syndicated progressive columnist, who died January 31 at age 62 after a long battle with what she referred to as a "scorching case of cancer," adored the activists she celebrated from the time in the late 1960s when she created her own "Movements for Social Change" beat at the old Minneapolis Tribune and started making heroes of "militant blacks, angry Indians, radical students, uppity women and a motley assortment of other misfits and troublemakers."
"Troublemaker" might be a term of derision in the lexicon of some journalists--particularly the on-bended-knee White House press pack that Ivins studiously refused to run with--but to Molly it was a term of endearment. If anyone anywhere was picking a fight with the powerful, she was writing them up with the same passionate language she employed when her friend the great Texas liberal Billie Carr passed on in 2002. Ivins recalled Carr "was there for the workers and the unions, she was there for the African-Americans, she was there for the Hispanics, she was there for the women, she was there for the gays. And this wasn't all high-minded, oh, we-should-all-be-kinder-to-one-another. This was tough, down, gritty, political trench warfare; money against people. She bullied her way to the table of power, and then she used that place to get everybody else there, too. If you ain't ready to sweat, and you ain't smart enough to deal, you can't play in her league."
Molly Ivins could have played in the league of the big boys. They invited her in, giving her a bureau chief job with the New York Times--which she wrote her way out of when she referred to a "community chicken-killing festival" in a small town as a "gang-pluck." Leaving the Times in 1982 was the best thing that ever happened to Molly. She settled back in her home state of Texas, where her friend Jim Hightower was about to get elected as agricultural commissioner and another friend named Ann Richards was striding toward the governorship. As a newspaper columnist for the old Dallas Times Herald--and, after that paper's demise, for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram--Molly began writing a political column drenched in the good humor and fighting spirit of that populist moment. It appealed beyond Texas, and within a decade she was writing for 400 papers nationwide.
As it happened, the populist fires faded in Texas, and the state started spewing out the byproducts of an uglier political tradition--the oil-money plutocracy--in the form of George Bush and Dick Cheney.
It mattered, a lot, that Molly was writing for papers around the country during the Bush interregnum. She explained to disbelieving Minnesotans and Mainers that, yes, these men really were as mean, as self-serving and as delusional as they seemed. The book that Molly and her pal Lou Dubose wrote about their homeboy-in-chief, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (Random House, 2000), was the essential exposé of the man the Supreme Court elected President. And Ivins's columns tore away any pretense of civility or citizenship erected by the likes of Karl Rove.
When Washington pundits started counseling bipartisanship after voters routed the Republicans in the 2006 elections, Molly wrote, "The sheer pleasure of getting lessons in etiquette from Karl Rove and the right-wing media passeth all understanding. Ever since 1994, the Republican Party has gone after Democrats with the frenzy of a foaming mad dog. There was the impeachment of Bill Clinton, not to mention the trashing of both Clinton and his wife--accused of everything from selling drugs to murder--all orchestrated by that paragon of manners, Tom DeLay.... So after 12 years of tolerating lying, cheating and corruption, the press is prepared to lecture Democrats on how to behave with bipartisan manners.
"Given Bush's record with the truth, this bipartisanship sounds like a bad idea on its face," Ivins continued, in a column that warned any Democrat who might think to make nice with President and his team that "These people are not only dishonest--they're not even smart."
Her readers cheered that November 9, 2006, column, as they did everything Molly wrote. And the cheers came loudest from those distant corners of Kansas and Mississippi where, often, her words were the only dissents that appeared in the local papers during the long period of diminished discourse following 9/11. For the liberal faithful in Boise and Biloxi and Beaumont, she was a lifeline--telling them that, yes, Henry Kissinger was "an old war criminal," that Bush had created a "an honest to goodness constitutional crisis" when it embarked on a program of warrantless wiretapping and that Bill Moyers should seek the presidency because "I want to vote for somebody who's good and brave and who should win." (The Moyers boomlet was our last co-conspiracy, and in Molly's honor, I'm thinking of writing in his name on my Democratic primary ballot next year.)
For the people in the places where no one famous ever came, Molly Ivins arrived a couple of times a week in the form of columns that told the local rabble-rousers that they were the true patriots, that they damn well better keep pitching fits about the war and the Patriot Act and economic inequality, and that they should never apologize for defending "those highest and best American ideas" contained in the Bill of Rights.
Often, Molly actually did come--in all of her wisecracking, pot-stirring populist glory.
Keeping a promise she'd made when her old friend and fellow Texan John Henry Faulk was on his deathbed, Molly accepted a steady schedule of invites to speak for local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union in dozens of communities, from Toledo to Sarasota to Medford, Oregon. Though she could have commanded five figures, she took no speaker's fee. She just came and told the crowds to carry on for the Constitution. "I know that sludge-for-brains like Bill O'Reilly attack the ACLU for being 'un-American,' but when Bill O'Reilly's constitutional rights are violated, the ACLU will stand up for him just like they did for Oliver North, Communists, the KKK, atheists, movement conservatives and everyone else they've defended over the years," she told them. "The premise is easily understood: If the government can take away one person's rights, it can take away everyone's."
She also told them, even when she was battling cancer and Karl Rove, that they should relish the lucky break of their consciences and their conflicts. Speaking truth to power is the best job in any democracy, she explained. It took her to towns across this great yet battered land to say: "So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
Author and former editor, The Texas Observer
On a Sunday in September, Molly Ivins caught an early-morning flight from Austin to Flagstaff, Arizona. She had just concluded yet another six-week regimen of chemotherapy aimed at checking the metastasizing disease that had started as breast cancer in 1999. From Flagstaff she traveled to Lee's Ferry to begin a twelve-day rafting trip on the Grand Canyon with her longtime river-running friend Dave Richards, a Texas labor and civil rights lawyer. She wasn't dying. She was living.
On January 31, the Texas journalist whose syndicated column ran in more than 360 newspapers died at her Austin home in the company of friends and family and her beloved black standard poodle, Fanny.
In the canyon, Molly had a chance encounter with a Texas politician, a tall, stately former Republican senator she might have considered a reasonable candidate for governor in this red state if he hadn't worked so hard to dismantle our civil justice system.
"I can't seem to get away from them," she said after the trip.
And so she couldn't. In a private room in the oncology wing of Austin's Seaton Medical Center a week before she died, at times in a voice so low it was inaudible, Molly quizzed a Democratic State Rep who had come to visit. She wanted the inside story of the failed attempt to topple the intellectually corrupt and autocratic Speaker of the Texas House. She had watched the process from her home in South Austin and was furious with the House Democrats she believed had been bought off by the Republican Speaker and his corporate sponsors. From her hospital bed she was shopping around for a credentialed reporter who would send a certified letter to every Democratic House member who had voted for the Speaker, demanding interviews and a public accounting of how much money they were promised for their votes.
At the time of her death, Molly was president of the nonprofit board that published The Texas Observer. She had come to the Observer in 1970 as a co-editor, after working the police beat at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. In Austin in the early '70s the best political reporting was done in bars and private clubs, working the good old boys from the Lege, the lieutenant governors' and governors' office. Molly found her milieu there, gradually appropriating her subjects' voices and melding them into the distinct voice in which she would write for the next thirty years. (She also encountered an occupational hazard common to our profession, alcohol, with which she struggled for more than thirty years until checking herself in to what she called "drunk school," followed by regular AA meetings for the last eighteen months of her life.)
Molly moved from the Observer to the New York Times, where the voice she had developed in Austin--atypical of a Smith College graduate conversant in French--never quite fit. Her description of a community chicken slaughter in New Mexico as a "gang pluck" caught the attention of Times editor Abe Rosenthal, who told her he suspected she had tried to slip an off-color joke into her copy. "Abe, you're a smart man," Molly replied. Rosenthal pulled her off the Rocky Mountain desk and assigned her to metro coverage. She would move from the Times to the Dallas Times-Herald, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and into syndication.
Her final column, dictated to her administrative assistant, Betsy Moon, was a full-throated assault on the failed and dishonest war George Bush and Dick Cheney had begun and that only the American public can now end.
She said she would write about nothing else until the war in Iraq ended. She was beginning what she described as "an old-fashioned newspaper campaign" focused on one subject--the Bush Administration's disaster in Iraq.
Her campaign ended prematurely on January 31.
Open Society Institute
Damn if Molly Ivins didn't up and die on the day Joe Biden said Barack Obama might be the first clean black man to run for President, both stories sharing the front page of the New York Times the day before Groundhog Day. Lucky for Biden, and every other politician "leaving a village without its idiot" or "weaker than bus station chili." Too bad, and much too soon, for the rest of us.
I met Molly when I was running the Texas ACLU in the 1980s. You wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of her columns--though many of her targets, like President Bush, paid at least grudging tribute to her. But boy, was she ever a loyal friend. She spoke at every ACLU event she was asked to headline, from Beaumont to Berkeley. And such was her devotion to the Texas Observer, the hardy pillar of the independent press where she cut her journalistic teeth, that ill as she was, she insisted on being driven in an ice storm to its most recent fundraiser last month. A God who could take both Molly and her dear friend Ann Richards in the span of a few months must have no sense of humor--or more likely, a very good one, in need of constant stimulation.
Molly's humor, it must be noted, had the edge it did because it had a moral core as steady and fixed as the lone star. On the too-rare occasions when she ditched the jokes and wrote from pure, tempered anger on, say, the death penalty or the Bush Administration's gutting of habeas corpus, there was no voice registering a clearer call to conscience. There are times when it hurts too much to laugh, and this is one of them.