Lord, how I miss Molly Ivins. Sorry for the irreverence, but if you’re going to write about Molly Ivins you have to get into the mood.
Mary Tyler “Molly” Ivins, who died in 2007 after an eight-year battle with breast cancer, was larger than life — and not just physically (she stood six feet tall when she was 12 years old, a Clydesdale among thoroughbreds, she liked to say) — and a force to be reckoned with.
“She was rowdy and profane,” said her New York Times obituary, “but she could filet her opponents with droll precision.”
Her columns appeared in 350 newspapers, and her books — including “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?” — were best sellers.
Ivins thought of herself as a reporter, but she is remembered for her stinging wit (she once said of a Lone Star legislator, “If his IQ sinks any lower, we’re going to have water him twice a day”), her good ol’ girl Texas twang and slang (though she graduated from Smith and Columbia and studied political science in Paris) and her aggressive, passionate support for all things progressive.
Molly Ivins has been gone a dozen years, but as recently as last spring the Chicago Tribune carried an article titled, “If only Molly Ivins could say something now.”
I would love to hear her riff on the parade of ethically challenged political appointees in Washington — the Tom Prices, Scott Pruitts, et al.
What I miss most — and what sets Molly Ivins apart from today’s political humorists and satirists — is that she was an unabashed, outspoken cheerleader for democracy.
“We are the heirs to the most magnificent legacy any people have ever received,” she said. The prologue to the Declaration of Independence is “so profoundly revolutionary that over 200 years later (it) echo(es) all over the world ... people are willing to give their lives to have a chance to live under that system.”
After Ivins’ death, her former assistant Betsy Moon remembered, “She’d say: ‘I hear people whine: “I can’t do anything. I’m just one person.”’ Then she’d remind them, ‘As a U.S. citizen, you have more political power than most humans who’ve ever lived on this earth.’”
Dearest to her heart was freedom of speech, which is what led her to become an ardent supporter of and strong advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union. “When Bill O’Reilly’s constitutional rights are violated,” she said, “the ACLU will stand up for him just like they did for Oliver North, Communists, the KKK, atheists, and everyone else they’ve defended over the years. The premise is easily understood: If the government can take away one person’s rights, it can take away everyone’s.”
She stood up for the ACLU in its defense of the Ku Klux Klan. “If you’re a civil libertarian, as I am,” she said, “you naturally have to stand up for those dimwitted nincompoops to spew whatever vicious drivel they want to because it’s their right under the First Amendment.” Then with great delight she recalled the time the KKK marched on the capitol in Austin, and thousands of people lined the streets and mooned the Klansmen as they passed. She said it “looked like the wave at a baseball game.” Freedom of expression goes both ways.
Ivins was a populist in the best sense. She would have been ecstatic about the Women’s March — she would have been up front laughing that big laugh of hers, alongside her old friend Anne Richards — and she would have been greatly encouraged by the movement started by the young people from Parkland, Fla.
“So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds,” she would say, “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.”
Molly Ivins’ final column was about the war in Iraq, one thing she found no humor in. “We are the people who run this country,” she said. “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.”
“Raise Hell: the Life and Times of Molly Ivins” is a documentary for those who miss her and those who are just realizing what they missed. It premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival. With hope, it will be coming soon to a theater near you.