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The Sense God Gave a Duck

***

Molly
Ivins died at the end of last month. Cancer finally did what the
Republicans, mouth breathing fundamentalists and frightened editors
never managed to do and silenced her gallant, distinctive voice. At sixty-two, far too early, the woman who was proud to call herself a Texas liberal is dead.

 

 

Ivins was
an unlikely blend of East Texas rural wit, unrelenting commitment to
the egalitarian dream of the civil rights movement of the 60’s where
she made her bones as an activist/reporter, and the intellectual rigor
and stylish prose that she learned in her years at Smith College. She
went down swinging. One of the last columns she published before her
death began with this modest assertion:

 

The
president of the United States does not have the sense God gave a duck
— so it's up to us. You and me, Bubba. I don't know why Bush is just
standing there like a frozen rabbit, but it's time we found out. The
fact is WE have to do something about it. This country is being torn
apart by an evil and unnecessary war, and it has to be stopped NOW.”

No wonder she didn’t last too long at the New York Times! Her career as a journalist started at the complaints department of the Houston Chronicle, and progressed to being the first female crime reporter the Minneapolis Tribune ever hired. On reflection, these early postings, together with her stint as “sewer editor” at the Chronicle,
may have been the perfect preparation for covering the madness of Texas
politics as its murky waters washed up over the national scene with the
presidency of George W. Bush, whom Ivins had known since high school
and persisted in calling “Shrub.”

Ivins
was everything a journalist ought to be, a brave, funny, hard thinking
writer who always did her homework on facts and always presented the
results of her research in pungent, memorable prose that sounded like
she was just thinking out loud over a glass of whiskey with friends in
a noisy East Texas road house–an effect much harder to achieve than to
appreciate. During the dark days of the Bush presidency, Ivins was one
of the loudest and clearest voices in opposition to the long running
Republican hegemony, that fearful coalition of the unthinking, but she
had tough things to say about the Democrats too, including a column
last year on the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency that opened
with these lines:

“I'd
like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I
will not support Hillary Clinton for president. Enough. Enough
triangulation, calculation and equivocation. Enough clever straddling,
enough not offending anyone This is not a Dick Morris election. Sen.
Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in
Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her. Her failure to speak
out on Terri Schiavo, not to mention that gross pandering on
flag-burning, are just contemptible little dodges.”

She
was tough, she was funny, and she told the truth as she saw it. Cancer
killed her too early, but she left behind a legacy of astringent, well
crafted prose and whole gangs of bigots and war mongers who had felt
the touch of her whip. Not a bad legacy for a Smith gal from Texas, and
a challenge to the rest of us who bother the public with our writing.

Many
of us who loved her work have weighed in with essays about the
remarkable woman since the bad news came out of Austin last month, and
everybody seemed to have a Molly Ivins story to tell. Mine is very
modest. Once, on a research trip in Texas, I came across a story I
thought might interest her and called her up. We yakked for a few
minutes, laughed together, and agreed that if I got to Austin or she
got to Vancouver we’d share a drink. It never happened, and that will
stand as one of the many regrets in my sometimes ill spent life. But
still, I did get to talk with her on the phone, and, like the rest of
literate North America, I benefited from her wit and wisdom almost
every week.

Her
example will be a hard one for us all to live up to, but her good
advice, given close to the end of her life, sets a good test for
whether we are doing our bit on the planet or just taking up space
uselessly. She urged us:

So
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."

Words to live by, and a great final lesson from one of America’s great moral voices. We’ll miss you, Molly.

.

 

Vancouver, Feb. 12, 2007

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Tom Sandborn

Tom Sandborn

Tom Sandborn lives in Vancouver, B.C.

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