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An appreciation: Mintz on Molly Ivins

COMMENTARY | February 01, 2007

A spirited writer even as she was dying of breast cancer, Ivins wrote only a few weeks ago that 'Bush is just standing there like a frozen rabbit' and 'it’s up to you and me, Bubba' to end this war.

By Morton Mintz

Molly Ivins appended this "personal note" to her column of Dec. 13, 1999: "I have contracted an outstanding case of breast cancer, from which I fully 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."

I'd bet the store that her readers—certainly including myself—hoped and prayed for Molly's recovery because to read her was to love her. It was not to be: She died January 31st.

No one reading that column of six years ago would have guessed at the bad news at the end. It was pure, unadulterated Molly, writing about George W. Bush's performance in the Republican debate a few days earlier:

[N]ow that the Bush-is-a-smirking-dummy chorus is rising up from most of the me-too-ers in the Washington swamp, it's commenced to get my Texas dander up.

Watching the media pack turn on a candidate is even more sickening than watching it build an amiable—but distinctly unbrilliant—fellow with a very slender resume into some towering political titan who will inevitably become the next president of the United States.

Even those trying to defend him get it wrong. Some man from `The Washington Post' was on TV saying, "Well, he's the governor of an important state, so he must have some heft."

Oh, hell, the governor of Texas didn't amount to do-squat--or, as Cactus Jack Garner once put it, a bucket of warm spit. Could I make a suggestion here? Why don't y'all come on down here, do some reporting (remember reporting?) and then see what you conclude about the man?

The next day, I wrote to Fred Hiatt, then the Washington Post's incoming editorial-page editor. Humbly—I was a "buttinsky," I confessed—I pleaded that he adorn the op-ed page with "Funny Molly. Witty Molly. Wry Molly. Pomposity-shattering Molly. See-through-it-all, wise-in-the-ways-of-the-world Molly. I would add today, Brave Molly."

Doubtless unwisely, I contrasted her with his inherited stable of op-ed columnists, describing one as a "stuffy, tut-tutting, Reagan-speechwriter," a second as "Sourball," a third as "Indentured right-wing icon," and a fourth as "Second-hand-smoke-blessing, Amtrack-whacking, military-waste-ignoring."

Under Hiatt's predecessor, the late Meg Greenfield, I complained, Molly appeared so infrequently that I almost spilled my breakfast coffee the last time she ran. "I have no connection of any kind with either Oklahoma or Texas," I wrote. "Yet I subscribe to the Oklahoma Observer and the Texas Observer...In good part because [they] print Molly Ivins."

So persuasive was I that Molly disappeared altogether from Post op-ed, although Hiatt would later say, "There ought to be more women on op-ed pages in general. Over time, I intend to make that happen." He noted that death had claimed two of his columnists in the past year, Mary McGrory and Marjorie Williams, leaving Anne Applebaum as the only regularly published woman.

Desperate for Molly, hungry to read awful truths in plain words while often being made to laugh at the same time, many of us fans turned to Web postings of her column in, say, the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado.

In a column last Feb. 28, for example, Molly described a "putrid performance" by the Republican Congress—requiring a person injured by a drug "to prove 'willful misconduct,' not just actual harm"—as "part of a much larger pattern to protect corporations from the consequences of the damage they cause." She went on to ridicule the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, something editorial pages and pundits rarely do:

Because of repeated problems with roof-crush incidents that have crippled drivers in rollover accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at last proposed a beefed-up safety standard for car roofs-but the proposal also provides legal protection for the manufacturers from future roof-crush lawsuits. So your car roof may be less liable to crush during a rollover, but if it does and leaves you paraplegic, but you won't be able to sue. Sometimes I'm not sure what planet these people live on—they must think the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal represents reality.

Gee, would a fine, upstanding American corporation actually make a product that would hurt someone? Knowingly? Would they ever lie to cover it up after they find out about the problem and continue manufacturing whatever it is until finally forced to stop? Well, would they do that if it was really, really profitable? Could that happen in our great nation?

The trouble with the people who write The Wall Street Journal's editorial page is that they never read their own newspaper, which still does the best job of business reporting anywhere. Business interests have done a splendid job of vilifying trial lawyers and pretending the only people hurt by limiting the right to sue are trial lawyers.

Look, the trial lawyer is not the one in a wheelchair after a roof-crush rollover leaves someone paraplegic. Do you drive a car?

Just four weeks ago, on Jan. 7, knowing her death was near, she was in anguish about what's happened to her country. Under the headline "AN IRAQ EXIT IS UP TO US," she wrote:

The president of the United States does not have the sense God gave a duck – so it's up to us. You and me, Bubba.

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 send 20,0000 more soldiers into this hellhole, as he reportedly will announce next week.

I don't know why Bush is just standing there like a frozen rabbit, but it's time we found out. The fact is 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.

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?

It's a monstrous idea to put people in prison and keep them there. Since 1215, civil authorities have been obligated to tell people with what they are charged if they're arrested. This administration has done away with rights first enshrined in the Magna Carta nearly 800 years ago, and we've let them do it.

This will be a regular feature of mine, like an old-fashioned newspaper campaign. Every column, I'll write about this war until we find some way to end it. STOP IT NOW. BAM! Every day, we will review some factor we should have gotten right.

So let's take a step back and note, for example, that before the war one of the architects of the entire policy, Paul Wolfowitz, testified to Congress that Iraq had no history of ethnic strife. Sectarian and ethnic strife is a part of the region. And the region is full of examples of Western colonial powers trying to occupy countries, take their resources and take over the administration of their people – and failing.

The sectarian bloodbath we see daily completely refutes Wolfowitz. And now Bush has given him the World Bank to run. Wonder what he'll do there....

We need to cut through all this smoke and mirrors and come up with an exit strategy, forthwith. The Democrats have yet to offer a cohesive plan to get us out of this mess. Of course, it's not their fault – but the fact is we need leaders who are grown-ups and who are willing to try to fix it. Bush has ignored the actual grown-ups from the Iraq Study Group and the generals and all other experts who are nearly unanimous in the opinion that more troops will not help.

So, like I said, it's up to you and me, Bubba. We need to make sure that the new Congress curbs executive power, which has been so misused, and asserts its own power to make this situation change. Now.

I'll end with excerpts from a lovely piece by Harvey Wasserman that CommonDreams.org posted the day before the death of "Our beloved sister...This genius daughter of Texas turmoil [who] has stood alone for so long as a voice of clarity, wit, common sense and plain-spoken conscience that it's hard to know even where to start....

"If Mark Twain has a female counterpart on today's political and journalistic scene, it is Molly Ivins. She has that miraculous ability to slice and dice an entire raft of political horse-dung with a single simple sentence, laced with wry, seeded with sweetness, and so often utterly cleansing and clarifying.

"We can all be thankful that our lucky stars have placed her—where else but—in Austin. Throughout the entire horrific nightmare of George W. Bush, whom she has somehow known personally for decades, it has been Molly and only Molly who's been on the spot to say exactly what needs to be said in exactly the right Texas tone with precisely the right down home balance of horror, outrage and utterly human wit. Nobody else could be doing it as she does, from the inside out, from the high ground lifting up the low. Could we ever INVENT anyone better suited, with a sharper wit and better sense of the jugular?

"Except with Molly, it's the spiritual center that's the bullseye. With that wry, beautiful smile of hers and that insanely musical Texas twang, she never fails to aim for higher ground. When her eyes roll at the latest unbelievable insanity from this ghastly crew, she still manages to twinkle with that huge, heavenly light that's only Molly's.

"To hear her speak is to be dazzled by the music of a true national treasure. To see her heart is to be warmed by a truly magnificent woman who embodies all this country can and should be. That she has been on the job for so long, with such persistence and valor, is something for which we can all be joyously thankful.

"Molly, we are with you, and we need you, and we love you, as we have needed you and loved you now for so many years now. Get well soon!

"In Molly's honor, some of us are sending contributions to the Molly Ivins Fund for Investigative Reporting at the Texas Observer; 307 West Seventh Street; Austin, TX 78701"

[See recollections of Molly Ivins and tributes to her on the Texas Observer Web site.]

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