By Matthew Rothschild on February 16, 2007
Molly Ivins, In Memoriam
By Matthew Rothschild

January 31, 2007

“Hey Rothschild, you owe me a Heineken!” That’s what Molly yelled at me over the din at the Café Montmartre in Madison a few years back.

We were having a little fundraiser for The Progressive, and Molly had come free of charge, of course. Swarmed by fans after she spoke, she needed to wet her whistle.

She believed in the power of laughter. She knew it could keep you from getting depressed or burning out. And she knew it could deflate the abusers of power.

She had just finished telling one of her favorite stories (which we published in August 1993) about the Texas state legislator who introduced a bill banning sodomy, both homosexual and heterosexual, in the Great State, as she always called Texas. When this legislator succeeded in passing the bill with the help of an ally, the two men shook hands in celebration. “Whereupon, the Speaker had to send the sergeant-at-arms over to reprimand them both,” Molly said, “because under the new law, ‘it’s illegal for a prick to touch an asshole in the state.’ ”

She loved to be naughty. For a while there, I thought the main reason she wrote for The Progressive was because we let her swear. But there were others: She knew we needed humor to lighten up our pages, and that our readers needed humor to lighten up their lives.

She believed in the power of laughter. She knew it could keep you from getting depressed or burning out. And she knew it could deflate the abusers of power.

Of the Reagan Administration, she said, “Half of it was under average—the other half was under indictment.”

Of Pat Buchanan’s culture war speech at the 1992 Republican convention, she said, “It read better in the original German.”

For twenty years, Molly wrote for The Progressive, and over the last fifteen, her monthly column provided the frosting on the last page.

She was, far and away, the reader’s favorite. Even my sister told me she read Molly first.

She was the favorite not only because of her humor and her style. She was the favorite because she never lost hope in the promise of America.

She often described herself as “ever optimistic to the point of lunacy.” She had faith in the people. She understood how messed up our democracy was, how in hock to the wealthy and the corporate, and so she championed campaign finance reform. She promoted egalitarianism. As Robert La Follette used to say, “The solution to the problems of democracy is more democracy.” Molly believed that.

And she was a fighter, to the end.

Somehow, even as the cancer was taking its terminal toll, she managed just a few weeks ago to summon the energy to crank out a couple of syndicated columns on the Iraq War. She was doing more than her part to stop Bush’s craziness, and she was urging all of us to do ours.

To Jim Hightower, to Lou Dubose, to her colleagues at her beloved Texas Observer, and especially to Betsy Moon, her valiant right-hand woman, I send my deepest condolences.

I also want to thank all the Progressive subscribers who sent notes to Molly over the last several weeks. She appreciated that. “I’m overwhelmed by the kindness of you progressives, who have comforted me with your cards,” she said. “While I’m not able to get back to each and every one of you, please know that you’ve brought me cheer. On we fight!”

Molly, you brought us all cheer, month in and month out. And we will fight on.

I owe you a Heineken—and a whole lot more.

Molly Ivins, In Her Own Words

Here are some excerpts from Molly’s columns for The Progressive over the last dozen years.

Jan. 1995: Self-description

“I don’t have an agenda, I don’t have a program. I’m not a communist or a socialist. I guess I’m a left-libertarian and a populist, and I believe in the Bill of Rights the way some folks believe in the Bible.”

March 1995: How to survive Newt Gingrich.

“Ah, my friends, rejoice. These are frabjous days. Our nation survived eight years of Ronald Reagan as President. We can survive this, too. We can even laugh. All it takes is a strong stomach.”

October 1995: Deregulation

“When last we left that merry band of Republican brothers in Congress, they were deregulating shit on beef.”

March 1998: On Clinton’s sex scandal

“I do not believe the President’s sex life is any of our business. After thirty years of political reporting, I have been unable to establish a link between marital fidelity and high performance in public office. It really doesn’t matter who they screw in private, as long as they don’t screw the public.”

May 1998: On Clinton’s sex scandal

“With all due respect to the President’s private parts, we do have bigger problems in this country.”

June 1998: Failure of Democracy

“One reason I really like living in a democracy is that the citizens get what they want. I know you’ve all noticed the widespread grassroots movement surging with people rallying behind banners that say, ‘We want banks and stockbrokers to merge,’ ‘We love this system of campaign financing,’ ‘We want dirtier air and dirtier water,’ ‘We demand tax breaks for the rich,’ ‘We want fewer services for the rest of us,’ ‘Don’t fix our schools,’ ‘More downsizing,’ and ‘Tax breaks for corporations moving to Mexico.’

Feb 2000: Cancer

“On a personal note: I have contracted an outstanding case of breast cancer, from which I intend to recover. I don’t need get-well cards, but I would like the beloved women readers to do something for me: Go. Get. The. Damn. Mammogram. Done.”

October 2000: Cancer

“I just finished with nine months of treatment for cancer. First they poison you, then they mutilate you, then they burn you. I’ve had more fun. And when it’s over, you’re so glad that you’re grateful to absolutely everyone. And I am. The trouble is, I’m not a better person. I was in great hopes that confronting my own mortality would make me deeper, more thoughtful. Many lovely people sent books on how to find a more spiritual meaning in life. My response was, ‘Oh, hell, I can’t go on a spiritual journey—I’m constipated.”

Jan. 2001: Stolen election

“These Gore people have no idea how to steal an election. What happened to the Democrats? They used to have some skill at this.”

April 2001: Inequality

“Sunday-morning chatter announced in horror: ‘People may think the rich can buy their way out of the justice system.’ No shit. Been going to Texas prisons for a long time. Seen nobody rich on Death Row yet. . . . Wake me when impending egalitarianism is a problem. In the meantime, oligarchy is eating our ass, our dreams, our country, our heritage, our democracy, our justice, and our tax code.”

June 2001: A Rule for Bush

“I’ve been trying to find the depths in Bush’s shallow. . . . Maybe we should add a rule that we can’t invade any country the President can’t pronounce.”

Nov. 2001: 9/11

“My worry is that Bush is painting himself into a corner with his rhetoric. This is not a war; it’s a gigantic police operation in the face of a crime beyond all understanding. . . .

Back home in Texas, and the sign outside our neighborhood strip joint says, “Hot Babes, Cold Beer, Nuke ’Em, GW.’ ”

Dec. 2001: Bush No Giant Among Men

“Despite frequent reports from patriotic news media, I am unpersuaded that since September 11, George W. Bush has become a giant among men. . . . A year ago, he couldn’t tell the Grecians from the Timorians, and now he’s stuck with the mother of all foreign policy crises. . . . I’m praying for him. Mostly what I pray is, ‘Dear Lord, please don’t let Dubya screw this one up.’ ”

Dec. 2001: Foolish Military Strategy

“It’s hard to convince people you are bombing that you’re doing it for their own good.”

March 2002: Enron

“Enron is the gift that keeps on giving. Yes, there is joy in Mudville. Wallow away.”

Sept. 2002: Bush’s Cronyism

“Bush is the mascot of crony capitalism.”

Dec. 2002: Fight Harder

“There are three things one must not do in the face of electoral disaster. Whine. Despair. Or fall for that specious old radical crap: ‘Things have to get worse before they can get better.’ The only possible response to that one is, ‘Not with my child’s life.’ Nor is it helpful to sit around hoping that given enough rope, the R’s will hang themselves. They’ll hang us along with them. The only thing to do is to fight harder and smarter.”

Jan. 2003: Corporations Cash In

“You have to admit: The corporations are getting prompt service from Republicans in return for their donations.”

April 2003: The Peace Movement

“Well, beloveds, it looks like war. I want to talk to all of you who tried to stop this. You did not fight in vain.”

May 2003: The Myth of the Coalition

“So constant is the reiteration of the words ‘coalition,’ ‘coalition forces,’ and ‘coalition position’ that you might assume one actually exists. . . . Eritrea and Ethiopia do not a coalition make.”

June 2003: Iraq

“We knew going in this was going to be the peace from hell, and so far the Administration has made every misstep possible.”

October 2003: Iraq

“I have a suggestion for a withdrawal deadline: Let’s leave Iraq before we’ve killed more Iraqis than Saddam Hussein did.”

November 2003: “Call Me a Bush-Hater”

Robert Novak and Charles Krauthammer both claim to have “never seen anything like the detestation of Bush. . . . Oh, I stretch memory way back, so far back, all the way back to—our last President. Almost lost in the mists of time though it is, I not only remember eight years of relentless attacks from Clinton-haters, I also notice they haven’t let up yet. . . . ‘The puzzle is where this depth of feeling comes from,’ mused the ineffable Krauthammer. Gosh, what a puzzle that is. How could anyone not be just crazy about George W. Bush?”

January 2004: On the Internet and Politics

“I realize this is not breaking news, but we are looking at something exceptional in political history with this race. . . . The Internet is breaking open old power structures and set ways of doing things. Most campaign consultants have no idea what do with it or about it. How delightful.”

March 2004: Bush “Not Bright Enough”

“Being curious, taking an interest in other cultures, and enjoying travel were all characteristics of Bill Clinton. . . . Bush pretty much embodies the reverse. . . . He’s not bright enough to be President. . . . He neither reads, nor writes, nor speaks well. It turns out that a C average is not good enough for the Presidency.”

June 2004: Iraq

“No one can spin away a mess as big as Iraq. Recognizing reality may not solve a problem. BUT it has to be the start of any solution.”

September 2004: Bush and God

“Then there’s Bush’s slightly alarming claim to the Amish on July 9 that God speaks through him. That’s what he said, God speaks through him. This raises some troubling prospects. First of all, I think God has a better grasp of subject-verb agreement than George W. Bush do. Also, when Bush changes his mind, as he frequently does, do we conclude that God had to rethink things after the polls came out?”

December 2004: After Bush’s reelection

“I can think of nothing more likely to convince the people not to vote for Republicans again for a long, long time than four more years of George W. Bush. . . . Of course we’ll laugh again, progressives. But I am into action now. So let’s have at ’em.”

March 2005: To the Barricades

“Friends, soulwise, these are trying times. Now is the time for all good citizens to come to the aid of our country, and it won’t help if you all cower in places like Madison and the Upper West Side, having hot fantods over the approach of fascism. To the barricades, team. And for Lord’s sake, don’t leave your sense of humor behind.”

June 2005: Tom DeLay

“The guy smells like a slop jar.”

August 2005: The Downing Street Memos and the Media

“When I read the first Downing Street Memo, my eyes bugged out and my jaw fell open. It was news to me. [… But] The New York Times and The Washington Post have both gone way out of their way to deny that the Downing Street Memos (it’s now plural) are news. . . . I don’t know if these memos represent an impeachable offense, but they strike me as a hell of a lot worse than anything Richard Nixon ever contemplated. He used the government for petty political vindictiveness. Shit, I’d settle for that again over what we’re looking at now.”

October 2005: Katrina

“This is a column for everyone who ever said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m just not interested in politics,’ or, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it,’ or, ‘Hey, they’re all crooks anyway.’ . . . I’ve got one word for all of you: Katrina. . . . This, friends, is why we need to pay attention to government policies, not political personalities, and to know whereon we vote. It is about our lives.”

January 2006: Bush Is Done

“You can stick a fork in Bush, he’s done. It’s all over except for the next three years, and if that doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of you, you haven’t got a lick of sense.”

February 2006: Impeachment?

“Uh-oh. Excuse me. I’m so sorry, but we are having an honest-to-goodness constitutional crisis as the Testy Kid violates his oath to uphold the laws and Constitution of our country. The Testy Kid wants to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it because he is the President and he considers that sufficient justification. . . . Either the President of the United States is going to have to understand and admit he has done something very wrong, or he will have to be impeached.”

March 2006: “Enough of the DC Dems”

“I don’t know about you, but I have had it with the DC Democrats, had it with the DLC Democrats, had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating, straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch up there, and that includes Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

June 2006: Immigration

“The Fence will not work. No fence will work. The Great darn Wall of China will not work. Undocumented immigrants will come anyway. Over, under, or through. Anyone who says a fence can fix this problem is a demagogue and an ass.”

July 2006: Campaign finance

“Either we figure out how to keep corporate cash out of the political system, or we lose the democracy.”

August 2006: Republican corruption

“The Republican Party seems to have lost its moral compass ever since Tom DeLay quit.”

December 2006: Iraq and the press

“The self-important chattering class of Washington insists that you only have credibility as a critic of the war if you were for it in the first place. I’m missing a logical link there.”

January 2007: Populists and liberals

“Listen, a populist is someone who is for the people and against the powerful, and so a populist is generally the same as a liberal—except we tend to have more fun.”

Final column: Iraq

“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 that’s why we’re trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets. Bang pots and pans. Demand, ‘Stop it, now!’ ”

 

Radio interview with Molly Ivins made in 2003

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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