ARTICLE: Sense, sensibility, sarcasm, and spot-on skewering of political blowhards and buffoons: welcome to the writing of Molly Ivins.
Beginning as a staff writer for the scrappy Texas Observer before moving on to the major-market New York Times, Molly Ivins enjoyed a brilliant career that raised the collective consciousness about US politics. But her terrific work didn’t stop there as she eventually re-re-located to work at her local paper, the Dallas Times Herald, where even more fun took place. In addition, Ivins was a frequent contributor to The Progressive, The Nation, The Atlantic, Ms., Esquire, Texas Monthly, Mother Jones, New York Times Magazine, and the Washington Journalism Review.
She was once quoted in the usually trivial “People” magazine on the fact that humor has two categories. There’s the kind “that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity; the other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule. That’s what I do.”
Focusing her powers of observation inward again, she speculated on how she emerged as a sentient adult: “Having been properly reared by a right-wing family in East Texas, how’d I turn out this peculiar? I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point — race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.”
The cretinism that pervades the states of the Old Confederacy often loomed large in her writing, as in this pithy statement: “To accept that simple, elementary common sense is never going to rule your life, or even play much of a role, is to acknowledge your Southernness.”
Ivins clearly derived no small amount of enjoyment from interacting with some of the dregs of humanity, as with this brief write-up about the Texas “Lege” (Legislature):
So in my early days at the Observer, when I would denounce some sorry sumbitch in the Lege as an egg-suckin’ child-molester who ran on all fours and had the brains of an adolescent pissant, I would courageously prepare myself to be horse-whipped at the least. All that ever happened was, I’d see the sumbitch in the capitol the next day, he’d beam, spread his arms, and say, “Baby! Yew put mah name in in yore paper!”
Hers was a plain-spoken style of writing, half-Southern folksy and half-worldly sophisticated. The combination was usually pretty damn interesting but it was her keen understanding of people’s idiosyncrasies that made her stand out in the journalistic crowd. That and a marvelous built-in BS detector:
Texas politicians aren’t crooks: it’s just that they tend to have an overdeveloped sense of the extenuatin’ circumstance. As they say around the Legislature, if you can’t drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money, and vote against ’em anyway, you don’t belong in office.
Ponder this observation, and especially consider how it might equally apply to your own home state or home town:
Like most other Americans, not more than one or two Texans out of ten can even name their state senators and representatives. It is perhaps unfair to blame the state’s media for this situation, although the Texas press has a tendency to reduce the whole Big Top bizarre-o quality of the Lege to driest business-as-usual reportage. A committee meeting that runs hip deep in betrayals, sellouts, up-against-the-wall compromises, and good-guy-versus-bad guy action not infrequently turns up in the next morning’s papers as “the House Agriculture subcommittee took no action on Tuesday.”
World’s Biggest Empty Suit
Presidential politics offered Ivins a rich field for scorn and cynicism. Oops, that should read scorn and realism. As with this simple truth: “The charm of Ronald Reagan is not just that he kept telling us screwy things — it was that he believed them all.” Writing of Reagan’s sordid Iran-contra affair, she offered a far-reaching conclusion that should be presented to members of government on a daily basis:
Yes, we can successfully overthrow the governments of Third World countries by means of covert operations, but we always replace those governments with repressive regimes. Their collective record of murder, torture, theft, and abuse is a disgrace to this country and to everything we want it to stand for.
Although the USA often isn’t in the mood for the truth about our Alzheimer’s president, she provided it anyway in a wide variety of reports such as this one: “They said he was lazy and confused, but he prepared in advance: A script discovered by Sam Donaldson revealed that even Reagan’s most casual comments in meetings were written on three-by-five cards for him.”
And: “According to several Reagan aides . . . there was serious talk of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office because he wouldn’t come to work — all he wanted to do was watch movies and television.”
And: “In 1985, the last year for which we have the full numbers, 563 federal officials were indicted and 470 convicted, a tenfold increase over the highwater mark that was reached with Watergate.”
Tiny Island, Big Invasion
Now let’s turn to Ivins’ synopsis of our exciting, and amazing, and glorious, and triumphant, and scrumptious (not to mention splendiferous) victory in Grenada. She deftly put our political and military leaders to shame using their own facts and figures. For, you see, we sent ships, planes, missiles, tanks, and battalions of heavily-armed men against a small group of people whose preparations for combat extended just a tad beyond being able to write tickets for boat-slip infractions. During the magnificent incursion into Grenada, the great and powerful nation of the USA suffered a grand total of sixteen casualties, all of which were the result of accidents rather than enemy action.
To add affront to offense, “The army later gave out 8,612 medals for heroism in the great Grenadan invasion, even though fewer than 7,000 men took part,” she wrote in her wonderful understated style. (Yes, I should probably emulate that style but I am so often too full of consternation over the actions taken in our name that I cannot resist a touch of rhetorical overkill.)
Words That Hurt
Ivins recognizes great commentary when she finds it, as when she reported Jim Hightower’s brilliant assessment of the experiment in terror known as George Herbert Walker Bush: “If ignorance ever goes to $40 a barrel, I want the drilling rights on that man’s head.” She also had some nifty words about Bush Bozo The First; here’s what she wrote in 1990: “The man who ran on the slogan ‘Ready on Day One’ has been in office a year, and the only issue for which he has shown real passion is a capital-gains tax cut to benefit all the rich pond scum who piled up boodle during the Reagan years.”
She was fond of summing things up with as few words as possible. Powerful words, written in a plain style that disguised the power and righteousness of her observations. Example: “In a state legislature, clout meets clout, money meets money, interest fights interest, and only the strong prevail. Which is why ordinary folks keep losing.”
The More Things Change. . .
Molly Ivins’ views still seem fresh today. This may have something to do with the fact that the GOP continues to suffer from so much rot and decay that their stench reaches around the globe, but it’s fascinating to read Ivins’ commentary from nearly a decade-and-a-half ago:
We need a national economic policy that spreads investment more widely and more wisely than we do now — and that takes account of the environmental impact of economic activity. We’ll be doing no great favor to the people of Eastern Europe if we insist on exporting the state corporatism that increasingly dominates our own economy and that Republicans keep confusing with freedom.
Here’s another example of her wisdom: “…concentration of wealth is a Bad Idea. Since capital tends to concentrate, it is one of the functions of government to oppose this tendency. That’s why we used to have antimonopoly laws and the like. When you see government encouraging the concentration of wealth, check your wallet.”
Many people prefer Ivins in a humorous mood and she would often reward them with something like this:
Legislators do not merely mix metaphors: they are the Waring blenders of metaphors, the Cuisinarts of the field. By the time you let the head of the camel into the tent, opening a loophole big enough to drive a truck through, you may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater by putting a Band-Aid on a open wound, and then you have to turn over the first rock in order to find a sacred cow.
Her one-line put-down of Patrick Buchanan stands as a beacon of satire that could so easily fit a whole raft of current RWNJs. After hearing one of Buchanan’s wacko speeches she noted that it “probably sounded better in the original German.”
In column after column and article after article, Ivins would stab deep into the cold, cold heart of the media. She did it in a great many ways but let me conclude with this horrifying and ongoing situation: “The American press has always had a tendency to assume that the truth must lie exactly halfway between any two opposing points of view. Thus, if the press presents the man who says Hitler is an ogre and the man who says Hitler is a prince, it believes it has done the full measure of its journalistic duty.”
She followed that up with a punch line that should be delivered by each of us every day that the Fox Bloviator channel is allowed to use the term “news” in its name: There is, she wrote, “a noticeable trend to substitute people who speak from a right-wing ideological perspective for those who know something about a given subject.”
Article is Copr. © 2012 by John Scott G and originally appeared on eNewsChannels.com – all commercial and reprint rights reserved by the author.