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Political Animal

Good Golly, Miss Molly

By Brian Morton | Posted 2/7/2007

When this column began its first incarnation in the spring of 1994, it was created in the spirit of the Texas author, columnist, and journalist Molly Ivins. Fiercely liberal, progressive with an eye toward the comic, Ivins was and is my hero. She believed, as do I, in the power of government to work for its people, not just as a device to make life easier and more lucrative for the wealthy and well-off. John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." It was in this spirit, surrounded by the shallowness and meanness that has come to reflect Texas government and has since infected the U.S. government at large, that Ivins tilted at her windmills and cackled at greed, hubris, and stupidity.

If it weren't for Molly Ivins, how would the rest of the country know that in Texas it's a felony to own more than six dildos? Ivins, in her first column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in February 1992, dryly noted, "In their boundless wisdom, our solons decided that five or fewer of the devices make you a mere hobbyist." That sentence alone makes you want to leap off the couch, fly to Dallas, rent a motel room, and try to break as many commandments as possible, preferably and joyously starting with things like sodomy, adultery, and any other "y's" that might stick a thumb in the eye of whichever lugubrious Puritans came up with such a law.

We've seen the death of quite a few journalistic titans recently. I met Art Buchwald in the lobby of a journalism convention in the late 1980s, chewing on a cigar and holding forth in his barely understandable Queens growl. He's gone now. I watched Ed Bradley eyeball current Sun fashion layout stylist Pascale Lemaire and the strategically placed holes in her self-designed dress at a reception hosted by the University of Maryland's chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists back in the late '80s. Bradley listened to what we had to say, but his eyes never left that dress, and when he took the podium at the start of his address the first words out of his mouth were, "We got some fine lookin' sistahs here tonight." Bradley, too, is gone now. 

Some high-living, high-spirited people who made the once-humble trade of journalism a little brighter, a little more passionate, have passed from this earthly vale, but there are none I'll miss more than Molly Ivins. 

Ivins on guns: "I am not anti-gun. I am pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up to someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We'd turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don't ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives."

Ivins on George W. Bush, whom she's known since high school: "I, for one, object to being lectured to about responsibility by a man who as far as I can tell has never faced it. He partied until he was 40, repeatedly failed in business and had to be bailed out by his daddy's friends, got elected on his daddy's name, and is now ducking responsibility for the parts of the Texas record that are clearly his fault, while claiming credit for what he never did."

What a perfect antidote to this crazy world: a woman who called the Clinton impeachment "the Late Unpleasantness," got chewed out by New York Times editor in chief Abe Rosenthal for calling an annual New Mexico chicken slaughter a "gang pluck," and owned a dog named Shit.

Molly Ivins wrote about the joy of the good fight, even when the mood of the country turned toward selfishness. When The Wall Street Journal mocked the poorest fifth of the country as "lucky duckies" because of their cumulative tax rate of 18 percent back in 2003, she pointed out that the richest fifth had a cumulative rate--that is, the agglomeration of income, excise, sales, property, and payroll taxes paid--of only 19 percent, which, under the Bush tax cuts, would drop more each year. These are the people of the conservative freeloader culture, who believe that work should be taxed but wealth should go free, and that they should reap the benefit of all society's efforts while contributing as little as possible toward its upkeep. Carry on with passion, but laugh during the struggle, she counseled.

You don't make a lot of dough working at alt-weeklies, but being able to say what you want makes up for it. I would have loved to meet Molly Ivins, to tell her that the first offer I got to have a column picked up by another paper was when I called the soon-to-be chief justice of the Supreme Court an asshole, or about when I wrote a column about Alan Keyes composed mostly of jokes at his expense. I think we could have drank Negra Modelo beer and talked about the merits of zydeco vs. blues. I think we'd have been friends.

I miss her, and yet I never met her. And for that, I'm crying.

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