Friday, February 02, 2007

Molly Update

Guy Clark has a wonderful little song called "Dublin Blues" which begins:
I wish I was in Austin
In the Chili Parlour Bar
Drinkin' Mad Dog Margaritas
And not carin' where you are
Well, if I were in the Chili Parlor Bar this Sunday, I'd walk a few blocks down to the First United Methodist Church (both it and the Texas Chili Parlor are practically in the shadow of the state Capitol, go figure) for Molly Ivins' memorial service—and then head on down to Scholz Garden to hoist a few in her memory (h/t jules). But here I sit in storm-tossed Florida, so y'all'll just have to do it for me.

In other Molly news, I highly recommend giving yesterday's Democracy Now! tribute a listen or read. The interview with Molly is from 2004, but it's still quite timely. Here's my favorite bit:

MOLLY IVINS: Well, Shrub was pretty much a straight political account of George W's record as governor of Texas. When I started as a political reporter, you were told that there were three rules. One was to look at the record. Two was to look at the record. And three was to look at the record. And then you would see how the fellow would do in the next stage of public life. And I must say, I think it's a dandy rule. Lou Dubose and I are probably the only people in America who weren't surprised by George W. Bush as president. Now, the one area, of course, in which there was no track record was foreign policy.

AMY GOODMAN: It's interesting, because Bush just made the comment about John Edwards, about his inexperience.

MOLLY IVINS: Oh, well, of course, Bush had no experience at all, when he started as president, in foreign policy. And the amusing contention, even that he was fluent in Spanish, always sent Lou and I into convulsions. We’d go down in the valley, every time he speaks the same two sentences, and then they cue the mariachis. I was a little surprised that he started governing so hard from the right, given the controversy over the election, given that there was still some question about the legitimacy of his presidency. But it is very clear that they just decided to go for broke from the beginning. And September 11th, a terrible tragedy, and I certainly don't hold him responsible, but it does seem to me that they used that for their own purposes in invading Iraq, which they wanted to do anyway.

AMY GOODMAN: In one of your most recent columns, you write, “Recently on PBS's NOW with Bill Moyers, there was a long interview with Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster and message-meister. Luntz recently advised Republicans to explain ‘the policy of pre-emption and the war in Iraq’ by recommending that ‘no speech about…Iraq should begin without a reference to 9-11.’”

MOLLY IVINS: Well that's it. You keep making that connection, and that's why something like 70% of the American people thought, when we went into Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was directly linked to 9/11. And the Bush people just made that connection over and over and over and over and over. And it's phony. I mean, it’s just not there. The interesting thing to me about politics these days -- and that Luntz piece reminds me of it -- he was explaining how, for example, a Republican candidate would deal with working women. Now, you’re going to be amazed, Amy. But by dint of a shrewd professional questioning in focus groups, Frank Luntz determined that what working mothers need most is more time in their lives. We were all so astonished to hear this. And so, what he suggests is the Republican candidates say to a group, you know, when he's campaigning, “Now, I'll bet I know what it is you ladies need most. I bet -- I think you need more free time.” And the ladies will nod, and they’ll raise their hands and agree, and you've bonded with them, and you've shown empathy toward their major problem in life.

Well, yeah, you've shown empathy toward their major problem in life, but look at the record. The record is, you cut programs to early childhood education, you cut Head Start, you cut after school, you cut K-12, you cut housing vouchers. You’re going to change your overtime. They have done everything they can to make this poor woman's life more harried and frantic than ever. That's the record. But what we call politics now and what most political writers write about is the empathy and the bonding and the word choice and the horse rights, and it has nothing to do with what's really happening to people's lives.

Look at the record. Look at the record. Look at the record. I vote that, should an angry mob of torch-wielding global villagers ever rise up and burn the Tim Russerts, Brit Humes, Chris Matthewses, etc. out of their Nantucket mansions, we put those three lines on a monument atop the ashes.


I can't recall the last time I read a New York Times obit that made me laugh out loud repeatedly at 4:00 in the morning, but then this is, alas, Molly Ivins we're talking about:
After Patrick J. Buchanan, as a conservative candidate for president, declared at the 1992 Republican National Convention that the United States was engaged in a cultural war, she said his speech “probably sounded better in the original German.”


Her subject was Texas. To her, the Great State, as she called it, was “reactionary, cantankerous and hilarious,” and its Legislature was “reporter heaven.” When the Legislature is set to convene, she warned her readers, “every village is about to lose its idiot.”

Her Texas upbringing made her something of an expert on the Bush family. She viewed the first President George Bush benignly. (“Real Texans do not use the word ‘summer’ as a verb,” she wrote.)


In 1976, her writing, which she said was often fueled by “truly impressive amounts of beer,” landed her a job at The New York Times. She cut an unusual figure in The Times newsroom, wearing blue jeans, going barefoot and bringing in her dog, whose name was an expletive. [It hurts, oh how it hurts, to say "If only she were alive today," but...if only she were alive today, I'd suggest she rename him Friedman. --nash]


She quit The Times in 1982 after The Dallas Times Herald offered to make her a columnist. She took the job even though she loathed Dallas, once describing it as the kind of town “that would have rooted for Goliath to beat David.” [Or, as the Austin Lounge Lizards once put it, "Most cities have soul, but Dallas must have been / At the bank when they passed it around." --nash]

But the newspaper, she said, promised to let her write whatever she wanted. When she declared of a congressman, “If his I.Q. slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day,” many readers were appalled, and several advertisers boycotted the paper. In her defense, her editors rented billboards that read: “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?” The slogan became the title of the first of her six books.


Ms. Ivins learned she had breast cancer in 1999 and was typically unvarnished in describing her treatments. “First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you,” she wrote. “I have been on blind dates better than that.”

Oh, Molly. Even the staid NewsHour got in on the act last night, re-running a comic piece you did for them back in the Eighties, a hilarious tour of Texas public art (or did you call it "ort"?)—various statues of shrimp, beevees, bugs, and so forth, moldering in public squares, perched precariously atop buildings, and whatnot—that made me at once giggle with delight, sigh with nostalgia, and wince at the thought that none of us will hear you turn loose your awesome wit again. Across the internets, your tributes have been many and well-deserved. (And I haven't even gotten around to listening to yesterday's Democracy Now! tribute yet.) It's nice to see how many people recognized just how special you were.

I'm one of those people who likes to collect snippets of wit, verve, pith, zazz, insight, etc. that strike my eye as I surf the web. I went digging in my files and, unsurprisingly, I've collected quite a few from you over the years:

The slippery-slope argument [for sodomy laws] is almost as silly. The law is full of more or less arbitrary lines and distinctions. The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor in theft is one penny. The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor in drugs is one ounce. For that matter, the difference between a pig and a hog is one pound. To take another notorious Texas law, if you own six or more dildos in this state, you are a felon, presumed to have intent to distribute. Whereas if you have five or fewer, you are merely a hobbyist.


Dear old API [American Petroleum Institute], author of innumerable ringing editorials on the desperate need to leave the oil depletion allowance at 27 percent (certain Texas newspapers that shall remain nameless used to run those editorials without changing a single comma), is really swell at representing the oil bidness. Fond as I am of many of API lobbyists I have known over the years, I am not quite sure I want those bozos calling the shots on global warming. I have watched them buy law and bend regulations for decades now, and while I admire their chutzpah, I am impelled to warn you: They have no scruples, they have no decency, and they have no shame. (See 50 years worth of reporting on the industry by The Texas Observer.) Also, they lie.


Bush, Cheney and Co. will continue to play the patriotic bully card just as long as you let them. I've said it before: War brings out the patriotic bullies. In World War I, they went around kicking dachshunds on the grounds that dachshunds were "German dogs." They did not, however, go around kicking German shepherds. The MINUTE someone impugns your patriotism for opposing this war, turn on them like a snarling dog and explain what loving your country really means. That, or you could just piss on them elegantly, as Rep. John Murtha did. Or eviscerate them with wit (look up Mark Twain on the war in the Philippines). Or point out the latest in the endless "string of bad news."

Do not sit there cowering and pretending the only way to win is as Republican-lite. If the Washington-based party can't get up and fight, we'll find someone who can.


The "Watch on the Rhine" quality of our public life these days deserves serious attention. As one who studies the small, buried stories on the back pages of major newspapers, I am becoming increasingly uneasy. This is more than just, "Boy, do their policies suck." There's a creepy advance of something more menacing than bad policies.

I keep thinking of Mussolini's definition of fascism: "Fascism should more properly be called 'corporatism,' since it is the marriage of government and corporate power." When was the last time we saw this administration do something that involved standing up to some corporate special interest in favor of the great majority of the people?

Were you the one who brought this last sinister nexus back to the public consciousness? If so, I'll thank you for that, too (even if the oft-cited Mussolini quote may be spurious).

I had the pleasure of meeting you in the flesh once, Molly, and even of sharing a beer with you. But mostly I, like thousands of other admirers, have had the pleasure of reading your words and sharing your wit. I'm glad that so many of your words remain behind to keep us company—we need things like them in these times. Your wit, I guess, you've taken with you into the undiscovered county. I only hope the undiscovered country is ready for it.

Thank you and goodbye.

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