Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, February 2, 2007 6:38 am

“Tough as a metal boot …”*

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 6:38 am

… but, sadly, not too tough to die.

That’d be political columnist Molly Ivins, who died Wednesday after several bouts with a virulent form of breast cancer only slightly tougher than she was. (Nice obits here and here.)

Over at my friend and colleague Allen Johnson‘s blog, commenter Jim Langer said, “Perhaps history will vindicate Ms. Ivins’ ire and biting sarcasm, as it did Daumier and Goya.”

Puh-leeze. If she hadn’t been a woman and a Southerner, she’d have been able to enjoy that sort of prestige while she still lived. That’s not political correctness, that’s just stone fact. Either one of those characteristics makes a lot of people nervous. The combination sends a lot of people who ought to know better, mainly effete Northeastern liberals, West Coast granola types and some Southern men who have no idea in what contempt some of the women in their lives hold them, off to the fainting couches. It also enrages the sort of privileged types who find the combination threatening (for good reason), whereas those of us who grew up with steel magnolias in iron boots for, you know, mother and aunts and sisters and all just take that sort of thing for granted.

How good a journalist was she? Outstanding by the most reliable of all possible assessments: She was right, often years in advance, about most things she covered. That’s not just being prescient, that’s not foretelling the future, that’s being able not only to gather all the facts (and the right facts), it’s also knowing enough about how the world works and being immune to myths about same to know where those facts inexorably will lead us. She was so right about George W. Bush in particular that her books and columns about him need to be in the National Archives. Her reward for this was to be belittled when she wasn’t ignored. Hell, my own paper dropped her. And her work was derided as as Bush hatred. Let me be polite: That’s garbage. The only things I know of that she hated were breast cancer and bad bourbon.

In fact, people who accuse her of hating Bush just flat befuddle me. In addition to being objectively untrue, the claim also reflects a basic, and huge, gap in the in the educations of those who make it. Let me help them out — and, yes, I’m being patronizing and condescending as hell here, but they deserve it — with a lesson they should have learned in high school because it dates to ancient Athens: Humor flows, and satire races, uphill. Only turds flow downhill. When the downtrodden mock their betters, that’s humor. When the privileged mock the hoi polloi, that’s bullying. That’s not just a perspective or a point of view or an opinion, that is an essential characteristic of human discourse. Molly Ivins knew that, acted upon it, lived it. To the extent there was any hatred in this dynamic, it was from those who hated her for knowing, and speaking, the truth about that dynamic.

She came out of a progressive Southern political tradition that dates to the era of FDR and survives for the best of motives (if not always the best of methods). I’ve often disagreed with some of what that tradition espouses, yet I’ve never bought any attempt at justifying its conversion in the public consciousness, though not in fact, into lunatic lefty socialist commie pinko bitchism.

Ivins told great stories. She told great jokes. Frequently those two were indistinguishable. She made the Texas legislature understandable even to out-of-staters. Many lifelong Texas residents do not understand the Texas legislature. Many of those folks serve in it. One of her classic lines, about a member of that not-so-august body, went to the effect that if he got any dumber, he’d have to be watered twice a week.

She said, loudly and often, that American journalism’s greatest sins (as opposed to most numerous) are those of omission, not commission. It’s true. It always has been true. And when I say that, most of my industry’s critics look at me funny. Their opinion is not relevant. I’m in the belly of the beast. I know. She once reported for The New York Times. If the Times had made her the editor instead of Howell Raines, I am reasonably sure the country wouldn’t be in as much trouble as it’s in today. I can guarandamntee you that paper wouldn’t be.

Molly Ivins deserved much better than being the journalistic Cassandra of the past 15 or 20 years with a big dollop of breast cancer on top. Anyone tempted to think that life is even slightly fair should reflect thereupon.

*Quote from Ivins’ brother, Andy.

UPDATE: More link love from Maru. Y’all make yourselves comfortable. Come for the sincere obituaries, stay for the screeds and alleged humor. And please tip your waitrons. Thank you. I’ll be here all week.


  1. Molly Ivins indeed was a ” progressive ” who found nothing about George W. Bush or his politics that she cared for . She was one of it not the fiercest critics of the President. She was truly the quintessence of a “Yellow Dog” Democrat.

    Breast cancer is awful disease. Some with God’s grace survive. Ms Ivins was one of those unlucky ones that didn’t.

    Cancer also took another superb journalist from us on Sunday when Deborah Orin passed away.

    Orin was the Washington Bureau Chief for the NY Post. She was decidely conservative but perhaps someone will write a nice paean for her, despite that bent.

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Friday, February 2, 2007 6:50 pm @ 6:50 pm

  2. Yeah. I was not as familiar with her work.

    I joke about torturing spammers and other social plagues, but in real life I don’t wish cancer on anybody.

    Comment by Lex — Saturday, February 3, 2007 2:51 pm @ 2:51 pm

  3. Yeah, too bad you weren’t more familiar with her work. You missed a tough as nails journalist.

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Sunday, February 4, 2007 8:07 pm @ 8:07 pm

  4. Oh, I was familiar enough. She just didn’t engender in me the same level of appreciation as Ivins. Kinda like Beethoven v. Smetana. I like ’em both, but I like one a lot more.

    Comment by Lex — Sunday, February 4, 2007 9:38 pm @ 9:38 pm

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