One of my very favorite stories as a child was “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I suspect it was for many who identify as progressives today. For the few who may have missed this great parable, it is a story of courage and honesty in the face of enormous imperial power and public timidity. It is about the bravery (or perhaps simply innocence) of a young child who shouted out as the Emperor marched through the town, ostensibly to show off his magnificent silk clothes, that the Emperor was, in fact, quite naked. No townspeople dared point out the obvious for fear of beheading, although no one with two eyes could otherwise ignore the obvious. Yet the entire town did just that—except for the young child.
For the past several decades, Molly Ivins has been that voice—willing to say what so many of us believed yet so few, especially those in power, were willing to acknowledge. She said it with extraordinary intelligence and humor—qualities so often lacking today. She spoke often and courageously about the folly of war–and the idiocy of George W. Bush, whom she nicknamed “Shrub”. With that excellent descriptive title, she wrote and published a book shortly before he was “elected” President in 2000 (obviously not enough voters read the book, but should have) entitled: Shrub-The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush
She wrote a sequel in 2003 entitled: Bushwacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America. Both are great reads-full of her trademark irreverence and hilarity. Both of these books provide a “no-holds-barred” look at the folly of George W. Bush’s personal history and abysmal career as a political leader. She accomplishes her biting social commentary with such panache that even a dim-wit like “W” would likely enjoy her ability to turn a phrase and color the page with her down-home Texas humor–if he would only pick up a book and read on ocassion.
But this is about Molly. She was a gifted writer, a true humanitarian and a genuine hell-raiser. She buried her dear friend and sister-Texan, former Governor Ann Richards only a few months ago, lamenting at the time, “I’m sorry to say (cancer) can kill you but it doesn’t make you a better person.” She was right, of course, but she was an enormous figure in her own right—having struggled mightily to beat back breast cancer on two prior ocassions. Unfortunately, it came back a third time and this time it had its way with her.
But the legacy she leaves behind for those of us who believe power must also be accountable is to insist on speaking truth to power, to insist that the heart of a nation and a government is only as good as its commitment to the poor and weakest among us and that politics is not a spectator sport. She wrote, “Politics is not a picture on a wall, a television sitcom that you can decide you don’t much care for”. As Paul Krugman observes in his column in the NY TImes, she was keenly aware of “two eternal truths: rulers lie and that the times when people are most afraid to challenge authority are also the times when it’s most important to do just that.” She was often a voice in the wilderness on those subjects and even when the chorus started to get louder, no voice had the humor and colorfulness of a Molly Ivins rant.
When the nation was cowering after 9/11 and the Bush adminstration saw its weakness and exploited it by invading and occupying Iraq, she criticized the administration. She did so before, during and after “Mission Accomplished”. She did so when it took more courage to speak out than most of our so-called leaders were able to muster. She was unrelenting about her concerns and criticisms of the over-testosteroned world of George W. Bush and his band of extremists. She always dissected her subjects with razor-like wit and sass, wiping away the imperiousness and pretension they sought to achieve.
Her personal biography and resume are characteristically simply stated: “Her column is syndicated to more than three hundred newspapers from Anchorage to Miami. A three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, she is the former co-editor of The Texas Observerand the former Rocky Mountain bureau chief for The New York Times.. She has a B.A.from Smith College and a master’s in journalism from Columbia University. Her first book (which is a hoot), Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She? spent more than twelve months on the New York Times bestseller list.”
My personal favorites of Molly’s characterizations include her description of our Governor, former Mr. Universe, Arnold Schwarzenegger whom she described as looking like ” a condom stuffed with walnuts”. She also irreverently observed that “when Congress reconvenes, many a village will have lost its idiot.”
I had the pleasure of meeting Molly back in September of 2003 when she came to my community to speak at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser. We talked enthusiastically about California politics (not quite as colorful as Texas, but not boring, either). She signed a copy of her book for me with the inscription,”Keep raisin’ hell and keep laughin’, too.” Those sentiments pretty well sum up the life and work of Molly Ivins. And thanks to Molly many of us will keep doing that….but for today, it’s awfully hard to laugh knowing that we’ll never again enjoy her insightful, compassionate and hilarious look at politics and life down home here in ‘Merica.
We’ll miss you, Molly—and hope you’ll tip a glass with Ann for us all. The country has lost two great American heroes these past several months. But we know wherever you two are, you’re there together and raisin’ lots of hell yourselves. We mourn you, Molly and like the child who finally opened the eyes of a community to the fraud and deception of its leaders, you have been our courage and passionate voice. You have set the bar high—but we must rise to the ocassion now and make sure those voices continue to be heard loud and clear. Too much is at stake to be silent and let this Emperor with no clothes continue to rule without challenge. But you knew that, didn’t you.