What would Molly say?

Anyone familiar with the best political writing of the last 40 years can guess what she’d have to say about the last year

Molly Ivins, 1944-2007.

Molly Ivins, 1944-2007.

Bob Schmidt is a retired political reporter and Sacramento writer.

This year, we missed Molly Ivins. She was, quite simply, the most readable political reporter and commentator in the country for something like 40 years, and we needed her in 2007.

This year, we needed her to remind us who’s in charge here, as she did in the last column she ever wrote, in 2006:

“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. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, ‘Stop it, now!’”

It is certain that if the damn cancer hadn’t killed her last January 31, she would now be railing at us to insist that our employees in government provide adequate oversight over the frighteningly powerful electronic spying capability that the Bush administration, with Congress’s approval, has given law enforcement.

It is certain that Molly would be reminding us that we should forbid our employee in the White House to start another war by attacking Iran.

She would have pointed out that these politicians playing fast and loose with the Constitution had a lot to learn, as she did in 1987, when she wrote:

“I submit to you that only half the reason the Constitution is a great and living document is because our foundin’ daddies were about the smartest sumbitches ever walked and also because they wrote right in there how to keep changing the old charter as need arises. … The only problem was, 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. And it still goes on today.”

She wouldn’t be any too happy about our leaders’ plans to “export democracy” beyond our own yard, either. “Yes, we can successfully overthrow the governments of Third World countries by means of covert operations” she wrote in 1987, “but we always replace those governments with repressive regimes. Their collective record of murder, torture, theft, and abuse is a disgrace to this country and to everything we want it so stand for.”

She would have been the first to heap verbal scorn on the administration’s fascination with other countries’ problems, as they ignored “[t]he whole rotting, festering mess produced by poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, drugs, and hopelessness. This country has been in denial about it for years.”

America, she said, “is not the symphony of voices in sweet concert (that) I enjoy, but the cacophony of democracy, the brouhahas and the donnybrooks, the full-throated roar of a free people busy using their right to freedom of speech. Democracy requires a rather large tolerance for confusion and a secret relish for dissent. This is not a good country for those who are fond of unanimity and uniformity.”

Liberal through-and-through, her scorn was nonpartisan. The late Texas governor Ann Richards was one of her best friends, but in 1991 she cited “a failure of leadership on the part of Governor Ann Richards” as one of the reasons for social problems in her state.

“Observe Congress,” Molly wrote in 1990, “silly, vacillating, no earthly idea what to do unless it has an opinion poll in front of it. Here’s the Democratic Party—silly, vacillating, no earthly idea what to do unless it has an opinion poll in front of it. And citizens, observe the press—silly, vacillating, no earthly idea what to do except to take another opinion poll.” It’s really easy to guess what she’d have to say about a Democratic-majority Congress that can’t mount a sensible opposition to the president’s policies, isn’t it?

And, given how often the media was the target for her most vitriolic scorn, undoubtedly because she was part of it and felt betrayed, we could have counted on Molly to tell us about what a terrible job the press has done at reporting on everything from Iraq to the economy. “The most disturbing development among the Washington press corps is a collective amnesia about the purpose of a newspaper, which is to gather news,” she wrote in one column. It’s a sure bet she wouldn’t have been happy that the U.S. press corps focused on the latest Hollywood scandal instead of the excesses and outside-the-law operations of American corporate contractors in Iraq.

Molly would have been 63 on August 31. Damn cancer. We missed her this year.