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Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins (1944-2007)

“I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.” (Molly Ivins)

Digby reminds us of Molly Ivins’ passing, three years next month. We could use her voice and her wit in disentangling liberalism from Barack Obama’s, the neocons’ and neoliberals’ claims to it. She links to this review by Lloyd Grove in the New York Times of a recent biography, Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life, by Bill Minutaglio and W. Michael Smith.

What comes through in Lloyd Grove’s review, however, is less Molly Ivins and more Ross Douthat, lacquered with short-nailed Maureen Dowd spite. It is as if Abe Rosenthal were taking a last stab at a reporter he considered a populist bull stomping on the eggshells of his Times. He never knew what to do with her combination of theatricality, her Ivy League talent, and her irreverent, leveling wit.

Grove seems confused by Molly’s theatricality, common nowadays among pundits, but less so thirty years ago, – she "perfected [a] persona that was equal parts cracker-barrel and belletristic" – and concludes that she was a poseur. Grove mistakes, I think, her public veneer for substance. His reasons are pure Pat Buchanan and could have come from a D.A.R. critique of FDR and his Socialist Security.

They include that Molly was born to Republican upper middle class oil business parents and lived in a Houston suburb along with George Bush the Younger. (To say Shrub "grew up" there would be inaccurate). Molly also enjoyed the "pricey pastime" of sailing with her dad. She graduated from Smith, "just like her ditzily genteel mother and grandmother", and Columbia’s journalism school. She spoke fluent French (which ought to make her a raving Democrat). Worst of all, from the perspective of being a true liberal, Molly explored Ayn Rand briefly while in college (like millions who read and discarded her) because the love of her life, Hank Holland, who died young, did the same.

For Grove, only a conservative could come from that background, which makes her iconoclastic liberalism a pose. He must have found Shrub’s "compassionate conservatism", his horseless and cattle-less faux ranch, and his slipping from a Connecticut whine to Texas twang and back again as natural as could be.

His characterization reveals more about Grove’s enduring pique than it does about Molly Ivins. He repeats a personal anecdote, for example, about the Clinton’s inviting Ivins onto their Texas campaign bus in 1992. She grabbed at the chance for a scoop, temporarily leaving Grove and the press bus. How dare she put reporting over class solidarity? Like most biographers, he notes her "ill-conceived" (he doesn’t say on whose part) stint at the New York Times, but fails to put it in the context of her longer journalistic career:

That job ended shortly after the legendary editor Abe Rosenthal gave Ivins a dressing-down for her suggestive phrasing in a story about chickens. Rosenthal chided her for trying to make Times readers think dirty thoughts. “Damn if I could fool you, Mr. Rosenthal,” Ivins quoted herself as replying.

Grove is too Times-genteel to quote the phrase Abe Rosenthal once deemed too tawdry for his paper. While working in the Times’ Denver office, Molly proposed calling an annual chicken slaughter in New Mexico a "gang-pluck". That was it for Abe, notwithstanding the plucking, real and virtual, genteel and tawdry, taking place all over Abe’s Manhattan.

Molly Ivins deserves better. She gets it here, here, here, here and here. SusanG at DailyKos has a more complex and challenging review of A Rebel Life here. As in life, she doesn’t seem to get it from Mr. Grove, he doesn’t think she gets it from Minutaglio and Smith, and I don’t think she gets it from the New York bloody Times.

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