Remembering Molly

John Leonard described Ivins’ work as “an amphetamine rush of Rabelais, Mark Twain, Lily Tomlin, Lenny Bruce and Jeremiah – whether she was writing about George Bush, Clarence Thomas, country music or the White Trash Hall of Fame…Politics was the normal respiration of her intelligence. She never stopped being both funny and furious…The most important words she ever wrote were these:

There's not a thing wrong with the ideals and mechanisms outlined and the liberties set forth in the Constitution of the U.S. The only problem is the founders left a lot of people out of the Constitution. They left out poor people and black people and female people. 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.

Ivins was a digger and a thinker; she was fearless and selfless, and she was phenomenally focused. There were only three things she cared about: journalism, activism and friendship. And the way she kept the faith made her both a model and a reproach. A model because she lived to afflict the powerful and comfort the powerless; a reproach because she kept on writing and talking and fighting for the causes we had all embraced in the 1960's, long after most us had rechanneled our energies into much more selfish pursuits. “She gave her tired friends the goose to go on after we had abandoned hope,” said Mr. Leonard.

 

SHE EXCELLED AT THE MOST important test for every pundit: she was right more often about the vital issues of our time than almost any other columnist. This is how she warned against the consequences of a Bush presidency in the introduction to one of her books:

Texas has a lot of things suitable for export. The songs of the Flatlanders or the Dixie Chicks come to mind; ruby-red grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley, boots from El Paso, sweet crude from Odessa, and brown shrimp from Corpus Christi. But public policy stamped MADE IN TEXAS is like Hungarian wine—it does not travel well. In fact, it ought to be embargoed. Very few laws passed east of the Sabine River or south of the Red River are safe for national consumption.

Calvin Trillin recalled Paul Krugman’s a column immediately after Ivins’ death. Mr. Krugman cited these examples of the Texan’s extraordinary prescience:

Nov. 19, 2002: ''The greatest risk for us in invading Iraq is probably not war itself, so much as: What happens after we win? There is a batty degree of triumphalism loose in this country right now.

Jan. 16, 2003: ''I assume we can defeat Hussein without great cost to our side (God forgive me if that is hubris). The problem is what happens after we win. The country is 20 percent Kurd, 20 percent Sunni and 60 percent Shiite. Can you say, 'Horrible three-way civil war?' ''
Oct. 7, 2003: ''Good thing we won the war, because the peace sure looks like a quagmire. I've got an even-money bet out that says more Americans will be killed in the peace than in the war, and more Iraqis will be killed by Americans in the peace than in the war. Not the first time I've had a bet out that I hoped I'd lose.''

"So,” Mr. Krugman concluded, “Molly Ivins — who didn't mingle with the great and famous, didn't have sources high in the administration, and never claimed special expertise on national security or the Middle East — got almost everything right. Meanwhile, how did those who did have all those credentials do? With very few exceptions, they got everything wrong.”

The most poignant moments were provided by Eden Lipson, a former Times colleague and one of Ivins’ closest friends.

“A few years ago I finally realized that it was us, the cosmopolitan New Yorkers in the media capitol, with our literary and political gossip and hermetic chattering who were, in fact, provincial,” said Ms. Lipson. “ Molly was the one who saw America large and clear, who out-reported the mainstream media from Austin, who had a balanced and ultimately optimistic view of the world. Molly’s generosity was legendary, but in addition, she was brave. She went on book tours two and half times while on chemotherapy.”

Ms. Lipson was also diagnosed with cancer last year. Before it went into remission, Ivins came to visit her at the hospital. This is what she told her friend:

“Understanding mortality is entirely personal and won’t know it until you face it. The cancer will probably kill you in the end, but moving ahead, do as much as you can . . . until you can’t.”

“And then it’s okay to let go.”