One of the things I was always going to do someday was take one of The Nation's annual cruises. There are a lot of good reasons to do this, even if you're not among the cruise-inclined (and I'm definitely not). But for me, the chance to sit around a table, just for one evening, and listen to Molly Ivins hold forth would have been worth the cost of the trip.
Life intervened. Next year came and went, for too many years. Kids, house, you know how it is -- there was never the money or time for such an adventure. And now it's never going to happen, because Molly died today.
I've been telling people for 15 years that I wanted to be Molly Ivins when I grew up. She herself used to say that it didn't have much to do with her -- when you're writing about Texas politics, all you have to do is just write down what happened, and the humor takes care of itself -- but that wasn't quite so, and we all knew it. Molly had that sugar-and-vinegar combination of a merciless eye and a generous heart that's characterized all our best humorists from Mark Twain to Jon Stewart. She loved us unabashedly for our best selves (her Fourth of July columns were always twisted but sincere love letters to America); but also loved us too much to let us get away with being our worst selves. Bill Clinton, who caught his share of both sides of Molly, once said that "she was good when she praised me...and painfully good when she criticized me."
In the last year, perhaps as she realized that the third battle against breast cancer would be her last, her columns took a tone for the serious and urgent. Her second-to-the-last column was a call to action against a president who "does not have the sense God gave a duck," and the Congress that has yet to stand up to him. She was furious, polemical, and no longer coating her frustration with the honey of her humor:
We don't know why George W. Bush is just standing there like a frozen rabbit, but it's time we found out. The fact is that WE have to do something about it. This country is being torn apart by an evil and unnecessary war, and it has to be stopped. NOW.Nope. Definitely unfunny. But these are unfunny times, and our only Molly was never one to sugar-coat an ugly truth.
This war is being prosecuted in our names, with our money, with our blood, against our will. Polls consistently show that less than 30 percent of the people want to maintain current troop levels. It is obscene and wrong for the president to go against the people in this fashion. And it's doubly wrong for him to increase U.S. troop levels in this hellhole by up to 20,000, as he reportedly will soon announce.
What happened to the nation that never tortured? The nation that wasn't supposed to start wars of choice? The nation that respected human rights and life? A nation that from the beginning was against tyranny?
Where have we gone? How did we let these people take us there? How did we let them fool us?
In these days of Stewart and Colbert and Olbermann (and The General and The Rude One, too), it's hard to remember that there was a time, just a decade or two ago, when Molly was pretty much the only funny progressive in America. She understood, long before the rest of us, the power of laughter -- the way mocking your enemies bursts their pretentions, and shrinks them down to a manageable size. Covering Texas politics all those years, she'd seen the right wing in all their flaming glory. They were scary -- she granted us that -- but, as she reminded us twice a week, they were also idiots. When Dubya went to Washington, she was on hand to tell tales out of school about him. Since she'd known him since high school, she could do that.
So the cruise ship sails from Seattle this year -- this time, without Molly on board. And we're going to have to carry on the struggle for America without her, too -- and you can bet it's going to be a hell of a lot longer and darker without that six-foot redhead with the booming voice lightening our hearts and steps for the journey. In the last paragraph of her very last column, written just ten days before she died, she sent us a benediction, with instructions for how she'd like us to carry on:
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. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"If we believe in ourselves half as much as Molly believed in us, we're going to be OK.