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Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2007 22:36:03 -0500
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: Remembering Molly Ivins

Remembering Molly Ivins

by John Nichols

Washington Correspondent
The Nation
[posted online on January 31, 2007]

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

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 mostly 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."


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