Farewell, Molly Ivins

Molly's Gone
by Sara Robinson, Orcinus

One of the things I was always going to do someday was take one of The Nation's annual cruises. There are a lot of good reasons to do this, even if you're not among the cruise-inclined (and I'm definitely not). But for me, the chance to sit around a table, just for one evening, and listen to Molly Ivins hold forth would have been worth the cost of the trip.

Life intervened. Next year came and went, for too many years. Kids, house, you know how it is -- there was never the money or time for such an adventure. And now it's never going to happen, because Molly died today.

I've been telling people for 15 years that I wanted to be Molly Ivins when I grew up. She herself used to say that it didn't have much to do with her -- when you're writing about Texas politics, all you have to do is just write down what happened, and the humor takes care of itself -- but that wasn't quite so, and we all knew it. Molly had that sugar-and-vinegar combination of a merciless eye and a generous heart that's characterized all our best humorists from Mark Twain to Jon Stewart. She loved us unabashedly for our best selves (her Fourth of July columns were always twisted but sincere love letters to America); but also loved us too much to let us get away with being our worst selves. Bill Clinton, who caught his share of both sides of Molly, once said that "she was good when she praised me...and painfully good when she criticized me."

In the last year, perhaps as she realized that the third battle against breast cancer would be her last, her columns took a tone for the serious and urgent. Her second-to-the-last column was a call to action against a president who "does not have the sense God gave a duck," and the Congress that has yet to stand up to him. She was furious, polemical, and no longer coating her frustration with the honey of her humor:

We don't know why George W. Bush is just standing there like a frozen rabbit, but it's time we found out. The fact is that WE have to do something about it. This country is being torn apart by an evil and unnecessary war, and it has to be stopped. NOW.

This war is being prosecuted in our names, with our money, with our blood, against our will. Polls consistently show that less than 30 percent of the people want to maintain current troop levels. It is obscene and wrong for the president to go against the people in this fashion. And it's doubly wrong for him to increase U.S. troop levels in this hellhole by up to 20,000, as he reportedly will soon announce.

What happened to the nation that never tortured? The nation that wasn't supposed to start wars of choice? The nation that respected human rights and life? A nation that from the beginning was against tyranny?

Where have we gone? How did we let these people take us there? How did we let them fool us?

Nope. Definitely unfunny. But these are unfunny times, and our only Molly was never one to sugar-coat an ugly truth.

In these days of Stewart and Colbert and Olbermann (and The General and The Rude One, too), it's hard to remember that there was a time, just a decade or two ago, when Molly was pretty much the only funny progressive in America. She understood, long before the rest of us, the power of laughter -- the way mocking your enemies bursts their pretentions, and shrinks them down to a manageable size. Covering Texas politics all those years, she'd seen the right wing in all their flaming glory. They were scary -- she granted us that -- but, as she reminded us twice a week, they were also idiots. When Dubya went to Washington, she was on hand to tell tales out of school about him. Since she'd known him since high school, she could do that.

So the cruise ship sails from Seattle this year -- this time, without Molly on board. And we're going to have to carry on the struggle for America without her, too -- and you can bet it's going to be a hell of a lot longer and darker without that six-foot redhead with the booming voice lightening our hearts and steps for the journey. In the last paragraph of her very last column, written just ten days before she died, she sent us a benediction, with instructions for how she'd like us to carry on:

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. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

If we believe in ourselves half as much as Molly believed in us, we're going to be OK.

*

Molly Ivins Tribute
by Anthony Zurcher, Creators' Syndicate:

Goodbye, Molly I.

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.

*

Molly Ivins: Fire And Light
by Isaiah J. Poole, TomPaine.com

It wasn’t always fun being in charge of the editorial page of a newspaper in State College, Pa., where splotches of light blue floated precariously in a sea of red, but the days I got to publish Molly Ivins’ columns were always the most joyous.

Today progressives are paying tribute to Ivins , who left us January 31 after a long battle with cancer at the age of 62, as both a progressive firebrand and a light of hope.

It took my getting a job outside the Beltway to be exposed to Ivins regularly. It may be that papers like The Washington Post found her a little too plain-spoken and sharp-elbowed for inside-the-Beltway discourse. She knew that when it comes to the hypocrisy, double-dealing and shortchanging of the people’s interest in governments from Washington to her beloved Texas, it takes more than a genteel butter knife to cut through it. Most importantly, she proved the effectiveness of straight-talking progressivism in swaying minds.

I saw that in the letters and e-mails I got from readers after we began publishing Ivins’ work regularly. More than any other columnist, her visceral-but-humorous style moved readers. She gave voice to people outside of the Beltway and blue-state havens, who, especially in the wake of 9/11, needed encouragement to stand firm in their convictions against abuses of power in Washington. In recent years, she was unapologetically against the war in Iraq, against the PATRIOT Act, against the unethical shenanigans of congressional Republicans and against the timidity of Democrats who rolled over and allowed Republicans to get away with stealing our democracy. She was not a columnist who told us which way the wind was blowing. She was determined, with all of the breath that she could muster, to change the direction of the wind, and to get us to join her.

Roger Hickey, the co-director of Campaign for America’s Future , is among the many progressive leaders who knew Ivins personally and was inspired by her.

Molly Ivins loved this country and her native Texas, and she just had to report on the many stupid and dangerous things that those in power tried to do in our name. Plus, her reporting and colorful commentary was devastatingly funny.

Molly wrote for a lot of publications—many of them "progressive," but her audience was always regular Americans and Texans. I remember she was amazed when then-governor of California Pete Wilson tried to scapegoat immigrants and cut their benefits. She noted that her fellow Texans could sometimes be accused of discriminating against Mexican immigrants, but few of them were dumb enough to blame Mexicans for a bad economy in Texas.

We at CAF were honored that she came to D.C. in 2002 to be master of ceremonies of our Take Back America Awards dinner. That year we honored the national Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and an Enron employee who had been ripped off and laid off in that Texas-based corporate scandal and was organizing his fellow workers. Molly knew them both and both were delighted to be introduced by her.

John Nichols of The Nation offers one of the most telling insights about Ivins’ live in a tribute published today.

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 Molly Ivins that I can’t square with the news of her death was a sparkling diamond of a woman, ready with the quick laugh, who would never let the bastards get her down,” says Robert Scheer in Truthdig . “That went for the good old boys in her beloved Texas, the state of the president they sent to Washington—and even for the cancer cells that long had been attempting to end her life.”

"It is hard to imagine a better human being. Passion, intelligence, sass, kindness, compassion, wit, talent--she was a walking gift,” says The Nation Washington editor and TomPaine.com contributor David Corn. “The world was such a better place with her around. It was a blessing to be her friend and colleague.”

Even as she was struggling with the ravages of cancer, Ivins was challenging Republicans and Democrats—and the rest of us. Her last column, released by Creators Syndicate on January 11, was a vigorous call to arms against the Iraq war. It was typical Molly:

The purpose of this old-fashioned newspaper crusade to stop the war is not to make George W. Bush look like the dumbest president ever. People have done dumber things. What were they thinking when they bought into the Bay of Pigs fiasco? How dumb was the Egypt-Suez war? How massively stupid was the entire war in Vietnam? Even at that, the challenge with this misbegotten adventure is that we simply cannot let it continue.

She goes on to write, “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. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous.”

That last sentence in particular hits home with me particularly hard. We live in a truly Orwellian world, where the preposterous and abominable are being sold to us as being for our patriotic good. There is no higher calling in journalism, or in life, than telling it like it is, plainly and without fear, on behalf of the people. That was Molly Ivins’ gift to us, and the spirit that we must keep alive.

article originally published at .

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey