I never met her, but I felt bereft--slugged in the stomach is more like it--when I read the news this morning that syndicated columnist Molly Ivins had died yesterday at 62. I'd known she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, but I also knew she was a champion rule-breaker, and I figured she'd just go on beating the odds. Ivins was an inspiration to all of us gals with big mouths, big tempers, and an irrepressible urge to speak truth to power. No one could match her in the put-down department: she once wrote of a Texas legislator that "if his I.Q. slips any lower, we'll have to water him twice a day." When conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan delivered a tirade about "the culture wars" at the 1992 Republican convention, she said his speech "probably sounded better in the original German."
Most journalists would sacrifice a body part to work at the New York Times, but Ivins was miserable during her tenure there. "The New York Times is a great newspaper: it is also No Fun," she later wrote. The obituary of Ivins in the Times, though carefully researched and laudably written, exemplifies the prissiness that eventually led to her resignation: "Covering an annual chicken slaughter in New Mexico in 1980, she used a sexually suggestive phrase, which her editors deleted from the final article." (The phrase was "gang pluck"; you can hear Ivins's uproarious account of the incident in this tribute on NPR's "Fresh Air"; and there are links to other Ivins interviews here.) And how about this exercise in circumlocation: "She cut an unusual figure in The Times newsroom, wearing blue jeans, going barefoot and bringing in her dog, whose name was an expletive." (The dog's name was either Shit or Shitface; accounts vary.)
I'd been looking forward to reading Ivins on the 2008 presidential elections--and on the 2012, 2016, and 2020 races, too. I relished the image of her at 90 or 95, still stiletto-sharp and raging hilariously. Not going to happen. Instead, I'm trying to console myself by picturing Molly Ivins in the warm hereafter, perhaps sharing a sauna and a belly laugh with her pal Ann Richards, the former Texas governor (and no slouch in the wit department herself) who died last year. And I'm rereading her final column, published January 11, which she dictated because she was too weak to type. It was headlined "Stand Up Against the Surge," and it ended like this:
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 to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"
What a way to go.