Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?

Unlike many Texas institutions these days, Molly Ivins is doing just fine. The oil patch is still hurting, the Southwest Conference is falling apart, the NFL Cowboys belong to a rube from Arkansas, and the phrase ”dumb as a Dallas banker,” Ivins reports, has assumed the status of a proverb. Meanwhile, President George Bush, a synthetic Texan whom Ivins, a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald, dismisses as a ”raving twit with an incurable tendency to toady” creeps ever higher in the opinion polls. So what’s got the bawdiest wench in journalism grinning like a mule eating briars?

Why the whole ever-loving screwball spectacle, that’s what. Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She? brings us a liberal from that era in American life when the word didn’t automatically call forth the image of an earnest pantywaist lecturing everybody on the benefits of eating bran. Political correctness, for one thing, ain’t in Ivins’ vocabulary. She once wrote a column for Ms. magazine — included here — on her fondness for the incorrigibly sexist East Texas congressman Charlie Wilson, whose ”standing order on secretaries is, ‘You can teach ’em to type, but you can’t teach ’em to grow tits.”’ As earthy a feminist as they come, Ivins laments the trend of requiring politicians to display choirboy purity. ”Personally,” she confides, ”I tend to like men who like whiskey and women, and I’m not entirely sure I trust those who don’t.”

Okay, make that ”choirperson” purity. Reporting on last year’s amazingly nasty Texas gubernatorial race, Ivins reports that a good answer for Ann Richards, a recovering alcoholic whose opponents made much of her refusal to answer whether or not she’d ever used drugs, might have been ”I was too drunk to remember.”

Not that the columnist lacks compassion. Her admiration for Texas’ first woman governor stops just this side of heroine worship. It’s just that sometimes the follies and outrages attendant to what we grandly call ”the democratic process” require the balm of laughter. In a 1986 column from The Progressive called ”How to Survive Reagan,” Ivins notes that ”as a life-long Texas liberal, I have spent the whole of my existence in a political climate well to the right of that being created by Ronald Reagan and his merry zealots. Brethren and sistren, this can not only be endured, it can be laughed at. Actually, you have two other choices. You could cry or you could throw up.”

It will be recognized from the foregoing that Ivins can be a bit of an acquired taste. As in all collections of magazine and newspaper articles, some hold up a lot better than others. There’s enough repetition to make the book read much better in short takes than cover to cover.

Like most Professional Texans, moreover, Ivins never knows when to let up. ”Texas politicians,” she writes, ”aren’t crooks: it’s just that they tend to have an overdeveloped sense of the extenuatin’ circumstance. As they say around the legislature, if you can’t drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money and vote against ’em anyway, you don’t belong in office.” Hey Molly, ever been to Louisiana or New Jersey? Well sure she has, but Texas is her beat and she’s made it her own. A-

Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?
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