Molly Ivins is one of my all-time favorite political writers, a bodacious, six-foot tall Texan, unapologetically liberal and optimistic. I’ve recently been re-reading her book, “Molly …
Molly Ivins is one of my all-time favorite political writers, a bodacious, six-foot tall Texan, unapologetically liberal and optimistic. I’ve recently been re-reading her book, “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?” Molly worked for a number of newspapers during her career, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the New York Times, but she always returned to Texas.
The Dallas Times-Herald lured her back from her Times beat in Colorado by promising that she could write about whatever she wanted and say whatever she wanted to. The title of her book came from the time when she wrote of a local congressman, “If his IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.” Some subscribers and advertisers canceled and demanded her resignation, but instead the Herald backed her up, renting billboards around Dallas that said, “Molly Ivins can’t say that, can she?”
Longtime colleague and former Texas Agricultural Commissioner, Jim Hightower, said, “Molly was not just a big woman and big personality, though she certainly was both of those things, but she had a heart bigger than a No. 10 washtub and a brain hotter than the sun.” She was described as devastatingly honest and was particularly known for lampooning redneck politics and the Texas legislature, the “Lege,” which she said was the finest free entertainment in Texas. Corruption was just the way things were, and arguments on the floor would devolve into yelling, insulting mothers and wives, throwing chairs, and fistfights, but once, in the midst of it, four members stood on the speaker’s dais and sang, “I Had a Dream, Dear” in four-part barbershop harmony. “Ya’ gotta’ love ‘em. Who would ever need to write fiction?”
She also poked fun at the well-heeled, who spent $20,000 on dresses for debutantes, nor did she leave the Democrats unscathed. In 2006, she said the Democratic party was gutless and spineless, unwilling to call the right wingers to account for “ruining the American military, the economy, the middle class, and our reputation in the world. Everything they touch turns to dirt, including Medicare prescription drugs and hurricane relief.” She urged them to focus in on the important issues: getting out of Iraq, securing full public campaign finance to “drive the moneylenders from the halls of Washington,” and instituting single-payer health insurance to give everybody decent healthcare.
The Bush family, or “Bushwazee,” gave Molly priceless material, as they jockeyed for power in Texas, Florida, and national politics. As I was reading her references to Bush with his inane comments and dyslexic slips, I realized with a start that the timeframe was the late 80’s, and she was talking about H.W. not Dubya. (She is credited for giving him that nickname.) I knew I hadn’t liked him, but I’d forgotten he could be kind of goofy, too. I kept believing since the Reagan first four years that “now everyone’s going to get it,” when Ronnie’s gears were clearly slipping, and his wife was fatuously advising, “Just say no.” But to my astonishment, he was reelected, and then, bizarrely, lauded and lionized by the Republicans to this day. Then H.W. Bush said that his difficulty running against Michael Dukakis was “the vision thing,” being unable to clarify his ideas and principles, followed by a less than brilliant move: choosing Dan Quayle as a running mate. Dan Quayle, who said many incredibly entertaining things until you remembered he was a heartbeat away, right? As part of his address to the United Negro College Fund, whose slogan is “a mind is a terrible thing to waste” he said, “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.” In an interview with Sam Donaldson in 1989, he said, “I stand by all the misstatements that I’ve made.” We finally did elect a Democrat who made it eight years, and then Gore caved from a battle over the election, and we ended up with George W. “Aren’t they ever going to get it?” I muttered, no doubt as Molly was doing the same thing, and we had no idea what we were in for in 2016.
One reason Molly is my hero is that she could take material like that and make you laugh at it, rather than tearing your hair out, while never missing the point that it really might be a better situation to have some intelligent, thoughtful people in charge. Well, maybe she did tear her hair out. She certainly drank a lot of beer that provided lubrication for discussions with politicians that kept her in the know, and she did admit her struggle with alcoholism. I do think the power of her values kept her in the fray, pursuing what she thought was important and never giving up hope that it was possible.
This last week we lost another amazing woman, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who finally succumbed to cancer after battling it in several forms over the years. She was a tireless fighter for gender equality and for the rights of all human beings. She was as tiny as Molly was tall, and was as ladylike as Molly was not, but they had a lot in common in their determination to work and fight for what they believed was right.
Ginsburg had first been on the other side of the bench, arguing cases that were to become legal landmarks. From 1973 to 1978, Ginsburg argued six cases, winning five. As a justice, her opinions were tightly composed, with straightforward declarative sentences and little jargon. Her dissents received the most attention. Playing to the crowd, she took to switching the decorative collars she wore with her judicial robe on days when she would be announcing a dissent. She even wore her “dissenting collar” the day after Mr. Trump’s election.
She attacked specific areas of discrimination and violations of women’s rights to send a message to the legislatures about what they can and cannot do. She felt that major social change should come from Congress and other legislatures, not from the courts. She worked with President Obama to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, the first piece of legislation that he signed.
Molly said the real reason she was optimistic about politics in the U.S. was because she grew up in the South and watched the civil rights movement create change. She witnessed how fast things can change and how much difference government action can make in the lives of people. She said, “It was not something where, you know, beneficent white people decided it was time to change things. It was poor black people who got up and walked. That is something I’ve never forgotten. You can change this country. It’s our right to change it.” Molly Ivins never lost faith, nor did Ruth Bader Ginsburg, may they rest in peace.
The public is invited to an event on Sunday, Sept. 27, at 4 p.m. in Ely’s Whiteside Park to honor and remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Feel free to bring quotes, stories, and signs.