Molly Ivins could have played in the league of the big boys. They invited her in, giving her a bureau chief job with the New York Times--which she wrote her way out of when she referred to a "community chicken-killing festival" in a small town as a "gang-pluck." Leaving the Times in 1982 was the best thing that ever happened to Molly. She settled back in her home state of Texas, where her friend Jim Hightower was about to get elected as agricultural commissioner and another friend named Ann Richards was striding toward the governorship. As a newspaper columnist for the old Dallas Times Herald--and, after that paper's demise, for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram--Molly began writing a political column drenched in the good humor and fighting spirit of that populist moment. It appealed beyond Texas, and within a decade she was writing for 400 papers nationwide.You can read the entire piece Nichols wrote for the Nation here. Nichols expanded on those reflections this morning during the hour he spent on Wisconsin Public Radio's "Conversations with Kathleen Dunn."
As it happened, the populist fires faded in Texas, and the state started spewing out the byproducts of an uglier political tradition--the oil-money plutocracy--in the form of George Bush and Dick Cheney.
It mattered, a lot, that Molly was writing for papers around the country during the Bush interregnum. She explained to disbelieving Minnesotans and Mainers that, yes, these men really were as mean, as self-serving and as delusional as they seemed. The book that Molly and her pal Lou Dubose wrote about their homeboy-in-chief, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (Random House, 2000), was the essential exposé of the man the Supreme Court elected President. And Ivins's columns tore away any pretense of civility or citizenship erected by the likes of Karl Rove.
Molly Ivins was not one of those progressives who love "the people" in the abstract but not up close. Her populism started from the bottom up, and she loved people up close and personal. Nichols, who visited with her in Austin, noted how it could take two hours to walk a block with her because she stopped to talk to so many people. He compared he to another tough, gifted Texas woman, Janis Joplin, and he spoke out against the tendency to sometimes pigeonhole her as a regional humorist. A Texas Garrison Keillor she was not.
She was a dedicated reporter who worked hard and knew how to dig for the news. Nichols talked about how she often agonized all day over a column to get it just right. Although her writing was the frosting on the cake, what she served was substance. She didn't just toss off opinions and call that a column. And the substance was what tens of thousands of readers around the country relied on to fill in the gaps left by the "mainstream," corporate media.
You can stream the program here. Or, if you're a member of WPR, you can download it here. (Note: You don't have to be a Wisconsin resident to become a member, and there's no minimum. It's a good deal.)