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Unsinkable Molly

Ivins stays cheerful despite it all

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Molly Ivins is a little worried that her new book, Who Let the Dogs In?, is being billed as a "career retrospective." It makes the 59-year-old feel, she sighs, "faintly dead."

But with its collection of more than 100 of the syndicated columnist's observations on American politics, it's a fair description. In the book, Ivins takes aim at everyone from Phil Gramm to Tom DeLay to Bill Clinton to George W., offering gems like "Let's have a new rule: If you pronounce the word nukular, you shouldn't go around nullifying nuclear treaties." and "Newt Gingrich has already achieved the improbable effect of making Bob Dole seem cuddly."

The Texas native, whose work has appeared in Esquire, Mother Jones, The Nation, and Atlantic Monthly, among others, has previously written five best-selling books.

Tamara Wieder: Why this book, and why now?

Molly Ivins: It was really the brainchild of Jonathan Karp, my editor, who says he sees it as a career retrospective -- a prospect that makes me feel faintly dead. . .the interesting thing is, you're a journalist, they come in and they say, "OK, we're bringing out a bunch of your stuff," and you go, "Ummm?" I mean, what makes this a collection? And I was kind of surprised to find that the connections are just so strong, they're so thematic, that it goes through pretty much everything I write. And there it is, after all this time. I still think this is funny, still think it's important, still want people to pay attention to it. And I still think that we can fix it.

If you didn't think that, would you even be writing anymore?

No, I wouldn't. I keep thinking, I suppose we all do - what was it Lily Tomlin said? "No matter how cynical you get, it's hard to keep up." And I suppose we're all entitled to be cynical about American politics at this point. But there's so much that's at stake, there's so much that matters, that I really think it's worth taking seriously. And oddly enough, the best way to take it seriously is to laugh at it. . .I'd say political humor is a bit limited on both sides. But as you know, we are in a time of polarization, and you watch people try to have political conversations anymore, they get all red in the face, the tendons stand out in their necks, their wattles start to shake like a turkey gobbler -- it's terrifying.

Your bio reads, "Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated political columnist who remains cheerful despite Texas politics." How do you remain cheerful?

Well, first of all, there are very few things on earth more amusing than Texas politics. Grant you, it requires a strong stomach to enjoy this, but you remember, I've had decades of experience. No, I really do think it's wonderful. There are days when I can't believe I get paid to do this. It's like covering the circus. It's like covering the zoo. It's just heaven.

Why do you continue to live in Texas?

Well, it's my home. [Texas Observer founding editor] Ronnie [Dugger] used to say, "Home is where you understand the sons of bitches." Texas is more fun. In a lot of the civilized East Coast/West Coast environments, people are always having to deal with shades of gray. The nice thing about Texas is that it's really quite simple: the bad guys wear black hats and the good guys wear white hats, and there's not so much confusion. It's a lot easier. And you never sit around having existential questions about what to do; it's always "Shut up and bail!"

I read an interview you did last summer where you said, "I'm in the happy position of having predicted a short, easy war followed by the peace from hell, and so far I'm looking like a genius." Do you still feel that way?

Yeah. I mean, there's still nobody more annoying than someone who goes, "I told you so." But yeah. And what's really sad about that is that I'm not an expert on the Middle East. I mean, you didn't have to be a genius to see that one coming.

But you've said that Bush isn't stupid.

Yeah, I don't think he's actively stupid. I'm not claiming that he's the brightest porch light on the block or anything, but no, he's not dumb.

You've said that he's "limited."

Limited. Real limited. He doesn't read much, he doesn't know much, he's not very curious. There's a special form of provincialism that afflicts Texans, and I'm afraid Bush is one victim of it. It's partly because the state is so big and we have such an exaggerated sense of ourselves that we tend to see Texas as the center of the universe. Now, you know that provincialism is a universal characteristic. It exists everywhere. But it can be particularly troubling in a center of power, and that, of course, is what Bush is now.

Will you vote for Kerry?

Yeah. Yeah.

Because he's the lesser of two evils, or because you think he'd make a good president?

Well, I sure think he's better than Bush, and actually I think he would make a good president. But he's definitely boring.

So what do you think of his choice of John Edwards for a running mate?

Oh, good pick. Good pick. The only potential downside of that was if Edwards had made Kerry look even more like a boring stiff than usual, and you can see already what's happened is that he's loosened him up. John Kerry made two jokes in one week. Two jokes. I think this is exciting news. Stop the presses: he has a sense of humor.

What do you think about Ralph Nader's insistence on running again?

I'm really troubled by that. I'm afraid it's just a straight old ego trip. If Nader really thought he was getting his issues introduced this way, it's far from it. He's talking less about issues than anybody else.

Who do you admire most in politics right now?

Oh, gosh. Well, I hate to sound like everybody else, but the new guy out of Illinois is very promising, Barack Obama. There's some other kind of really neat people around worth getting excited about, I think. Nobody seems to be quite the caliber of my late heartbreaking hero Paul Wellstone. But you know, good ones do come along in politics. They're not all crooks.

What are your pre-dictions for November?

Well, I'll tell you: this is a great and deadly secret, but I'm going to confide in you. I make money betting on politics. And one reason I do is because I am much too smart to put any money down any closer than six weeks out from an election. And anybody who does is a moron. So all of these people you see on television, all these pundits making their predictions, are bona fide, certified, chicken-fried nincompoops.

If Bush wins, what will the headline of your first column after the election be?

I'm thinking of some fairly alarming examples. I really think another Bush term would be seriously discouraging. I guess it's just "Get Ready To Fight."

What about if Kerry wins?

If Kerry wins, I think we go, "Phew."

This article originally appeared in the Boston Phoenix.

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