I first met Molly Ivins’ political writing while solving a Quote-Acrostic puzzle some time ago. Quote-Acrostics are crossword puzzles with an extra twist: when you have correctly filled in all the definitions and placed each letter of the definitions in a grid that accompanies the puzzle, you get the treat of a short quote. In this particular quote, she suggested that America keep all its factories here, but go to South Korea, India and Mexico to hire our executives, thereby getting them at a reasonable price.
That quotation made me smile. It was funny and apt, and lifted my day.
I should state clearly that I am no political maven. I am too naïve and idealistic to understand the game of politics, much less to be a player.
I found this out when I was in college at the University of Louisville in 1963. If you are old enough to cast your mind back to those times, the presidential race of 1964 was heating up. The race was between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater. But in 1963, Goldwater did not yet have the Republican nomination. Pat Brown and George Wallace were also running for the job, among others.
A classmate of mine – one who has gone on to achieve considerable political éclat – named Mitch McConnell was an acquaintance, and I worked with him on a mock Republican nominating convention. It was an interesting exercise and I enjoyed myself until I saw him deliberately lie and cheat in order to get Barry Goldwater the pseudo-nomination. Bristling with righteous indignation, I accused him of these crimes. McConnell was not abashed or embarrassed. He all but patted me on the head as he condescended to explain that this is precisely how the game of politics is played.
It was at that moment that I realized that the undergraduate major which I was pursuing, International Studies, was a poor fit for me as a person. I had entertained ambitions of doing something good for my country. My mother’s family especially felt strongly that government service was of high value, and working to enlarge peace by diplomacy appealed to me. However, not only did I not know how to lie and cheat, I did not want to learn. I changed my major to English literature with a minor in philosophy, and retired from political lists permanently.
Consequently, I share with most American citizens a lack of first-hand expertise in estimating and understanding the intricacies of governance. I depend heavily for this information on journalists of television, radio and the mass media whom I feel I can trust. And Molly Ivins was one of these journalists. Molly died in 2007 of complications resulting from her third bout with inflammatory breast cancer, and I intended to write a memorial article about her then. For she was a true difference-maker. She not only had a clear and accurate voice in telling us her shining truth and making us think - she made us laugh.
Looking back at my articles over the last couple of years, I can see that I repeatedly got side-tracked when someone asked me a spiritually oriented question, often becoming involved in long series of articles. I confess that I am a complete sucker for such questions and always choose writing them over penning difference-maker articles. I just finished with such a series, and Mary Tyler Ivins of Texas, it is your turn for the very modest spotlight which I can cast on your honored self.
Ivins was born in 1944 and grew up in Houston, Texas, a child of affluent parents and a graduate of Smith College and Columbia University’s School of Journalism. She worked for several newspapers, notably including the New York Times, the Dallas Times Herald and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before switching in 2001 to being an independent journalist, writing a syndicated column which appeared in more than 400 newspapers around the country, and serving as an expert on television programs. She was feisty and funny and had that Texas twang in her speech and writing. She has often been compared to Mark Twain, sharing with him a pitch-perfect sense of irony and sarcasm.
About that humor, she said, “There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity — like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule — that’s what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.”
Ivins’ humor extended to herself. Asked about her feminism, she replied, “I should confess that I’ve always been more of an observer than a participant in Texas Womanhood: the spirit was willing but I was declared ineligible on grounds of size early. You can’t be six feet tall and cute, both. I think I was first named captain of the basketball team when I was four and that’s what I’ve been ever since.”
Ivins was a liberal, writing during times when this stance has been anything but popular. She said that, “It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”
For this liberalism, of course, she caught a lot of flak. After Rush Limbaugh had attempted in his ham-handed way to skewer her at one point, she said, “I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt. It doesn’t actually hurt, but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle.”
Ivins took on the fat cats fearlessly. Writing about the scandals of big corporations, she wrote, “In the real world, there are only two ways to deal with corporate misbehavior: One is through government regulation and the other is by taking them to court. What has happened over 20 years of free-market proselytizing is that we have dangerously weakened both forms of restraint, first through the craze for “deregulation” and second through endless rounds of “tort reform,” all of which have the effect of cutting off citizens’ access to the courts. By legally bribing politicians with campaign contributions, the corporations have bought themselves immunity from lawsuits on many levels.”
As a citizen I have long been outraged at the cruel and ruthless tactics of companies like Exxon, who created a gigantic oil spill that has wrecked the Alaskan coast’s biota for the next forty years without cleaning it up much at all, and Monsanto, whose genetically modified seeds have reduced the varieties of India’s rice from over 120,000 to less than 50. I thank Ivins for that accurate summation. I still have no idea what to do in order to halt the juggernaut of huge corporations, but at least I now know where in the law the immunity from correction which has enabled them to destroy their chosen prey has come from.
Ivins, always hoping to activate citizens to action through her articles, once said, “What stuns me most about contemporary politics is not even that the system has been so badly corrupted by money. It is that so few people get the connection between their lives and what the bozos do in Washington and our state capitols.”
Encouraging us to get up and fight for what we believe, she said, “Keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.”
Ivins tried to make us think about any and all of the issues of the day. Naturally, a foremost target of hers was the Southern Fundamentalist faction of the Republican party. She said several times, in different ways, something I believe to be quite true: to understand Southern politics, start by grasping the fact that Southerners are raised to be bigots. Once you grasp that, she would say, you can far more easily see into their Big Lies. One of my favorite quotes of hers about fundamentalism is this one:
“The problem with those who choose received Authority over fact and logic is how they choose which part of Authority to obey. The Bible famously contradicts itself at many points (I have never understood why any Christian would choose the Old Testament over the New), and the Koran can be read as a wonderfully compassionate and humanistic document. Which suggests that the problem of fundamentalism lies not with authority, but with ourselves.”
Another issue with which she regularly grappled in her columns was gun-related legislation. About that, she once said, “I am not anti-gun. I’m pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up with 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.”
I am a big supporter of this country’s unions. My beloved companion for many years, Don Elkins, was a union man, his union being the commercial pilots’ union. He felt that his job was made much safer and less victimized by big business because of that union. Ivins said, on that subject, that,
“Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.”
She persisted in loving her country. She said, “Any nation that can survive what we have lately in the way of government, is on the high road to permanent glory.” She did not bad-mouth the country. She chose that which was ridiculous and untrue about what was happening in our country, and skewered it without noticeable mercy.
In her last column, written on January 7, 2007, she wrote, “We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous.”
Politics is a tough subject. Much of it is handled out of sight. Journalists are constantly digging to uncover the layers of what is really going on. As Q’uo noted, in a channeling session recorded on July 31, 2007,
“We have heard the prayers of your people, and that is why we are attending you who live on Planet Earth at this time, and responding, when there is a way to respond, with our every effort to provide you with our humble opinions as regards the nature of spiritual evolution.
“The governments of your people, however, are not at all focused on peace, contentment or compassion. Those in political power have become able to hold the positions which they hold because they have laid aside what they consider to be naive and overly innocent hopes. They have accepted that they cannot be men of complete integrity, in the usual sense, if they wish to serve the state. The organization and arrangement of power is specifically and universally service-to-self upon your planet.
“There are those entities who, vibrating in green ray and blue ray, attempt most sincerely to change the atmosphere in which business is conducted at the level of nation-states. However, these entities are either weeded out completely by their inability to accept a system which is corrupt and to work within that, or they become useless in terms of making a change from within governmental systems because they have become used to the perquisites of power and have begun to think in a service-to-self way, while rationalizing to themselves that all that they do is for the greater good. They become more and more separated from any stream of pure metaphysical integrity by their own choices until they can no longer remember what it feels like to make a purely positive response to challenging catalyst.”
This service-to-self-oriented arena was Molly Ivins’ turf. She gave us solid facts, awareness of the patterns of the big issues of our day, and always, always, she gave us laughter to soften the blow and cheer us on our way.
Thank you, Molly, for your truth, your support and your wonderful sense of proportion – the Ra group’s definition of humor.
I open my arms and embrace your spirit. May we all find voices of truth amid the many prevarications and perversities of politics, and may we find the heart and courage to rise up and be active when we feel the call to be of service in that way – what better way to remember Molly Ivins!