Molly Ivins, the liberal newspaper columnist who delighted in skewering politicians and interpreting, and mocking, her Texas culture, died today at her home in Austin. She was 62.
After Patrick J. Buchanan, as a conservative candidate for president, declared at the 1992 Republican National Convention that America was engaged in a cultural war, she said his speech “probably sounded better in the original German.”
“There are two kinds of humor,” she told People magazine. One was the kind “that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity,” she said. “The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule. That’s what I do.”
Hers was a feisty voice that she developed in the early 1970s at The Texas Observer, the muckraking biweekly that would become her spiritual home for life.
Her subject was Texas. To her, the Great State, as she called it, was “reactionary, cantankerous and hilarious,” and its legislature was “reporter heaven.” When the legislature was set to convene, she warned her readers: “Every village is about to lose its idiot.”
Her Texas upbringing made her something of an expert on the Bush family. She viewed President George H.W. Bush benignly. (“Real Texans do not use the word ‘summer’ as a verb,” she wrote.)
But she derided President George W. Bush, whom she first knew in high school. She called him Shrub and Dubya. With the Texas journalist Lou Dubose, she wrote two best-selling books about Mr. Bush: “Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush” (2000) and “Bushwhacked” (2003).
In 2004 she campaigned against Mr. Bush’s re-election, and as the war in Iraq continued, she called for his impeachment. In her last column, earlier this month, she urged readers to “raise hell” against the war.
Like her mother, Margot, and grandmother, Ms. Ivins went to Smith College in Massachusetts. Graduating in 1966, she also studied at the Institute of Political Science in Paris and earned her master’s degree at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Her first newspaper jobs were at The Houston Chronicle and The Minneapolis Tribune, now The Star Tribune. In 1970, she jumped at the chance to move to Austin, where she became co-editor of The Observer
In 1976, her writing, which she said was often fueled by “truly impressive amounts of beer,” landed her a job at The New York Times. She cut an unusual figure in The Times newsroom, wearing blue jeans, going barefoot and bringing in her dog, whose name was an expletive.
While she drew important writing assignments, like covering the Son of Sam killings and Elvis Presley’s death, she sensed she did not fit in and complained that Times editors drained the life from her prose. “Naturally, I was miserable, at five times my previous salary,” she later wrote. “The New York Times is a great newspaper: it is also No Fun.”
She quit The Times in 1982 after The Dallas Times Herald offered to make her a columnist. She took the job even though she loathed Dallas, once describing it as the kind of town “that would have rooted for Goliath to beat David.”
But the paper, she said, promised to let her write whatever she wanted. When she declared of a congressman, “If his I.Q. slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day,” many readers were appalled, and several advertisers boycotted the paper. In her defense, her editors rented billboards that read: “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?” The slogan became the title of the first of her six books.
After The Times Herald folded in 1991, she wrote for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, until 2001, when her column was syndicated by Creators Syndicate.
• 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.
• What stuns me most about contemporary politics is not even that the system has been so badly corrupted by money. It is that so few people get the connection between their lives and what the bozos do in Washington and our state capitols.
Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television sitcom that you can decide you don’t much care for.
• There’s never been a law yet that didn’t have a ridiculous consequence in some unusual situation; there’s probably never been a government program that didn’t accidentally benefit someone it wasn’t intended to. Most people who work in government understand that what you do about it is fix the problem — you don’t just attack the whole government.
-In the real world, there are only two ways to deal with corporate misbehavior: One is through government regulation and the other is by taking them to court. What has happened over 20 years of free-market proselytizing is that we have dangerously weakened both forms of restraint, first through the craze for “deregulation” and second through endless rounds of “tort reform,” all of which have the effect of cutting off citizens’ access to the courts. By legally bribing politicians with campaign contributions, the corporations have bought themselves immunity from lawsuits on many levels.
-The United States of America is still run by its citizens. The government works for us. Rank imperialism and warmongering are not American traditions or values. We do not need to dominate the world. We want and need to work with other nations. We want to find solutions other than killing people. Not in our name, not with our money, not with our children’s blood.