Mourning Molly Ivins

February 2, 2007

It may be true that every death diminishes us, but some deaths diminish us a lot more than others. This is especially true in the arena of punditry, which is why the blogosphere, radio and print media alike have erupted in spontaneous sorrow over the death of Molly Ivins.

A great liberal writer like Molly Ivins doesn’t take shape overnight. There are no “think tanks” spawning legions of independent thinkers the way the intellectual assembly lines of the right churn out Walking Talking Winger dolls by the truckload. I’m not saying Michelle Malkin should get hit by a bus, but should it happen there would scarcely be a pause before another right-wing squawker — just as vapid, just as combative, just as intellectually useless — took her place, ready to hit the right marks and cough up ideological hairballs on cue.

But the creation of a genuine independent thinker such as Molly Ivins requires time — time and experience and seasoning. While sheep like Jonah Goldberg and Andrew Sullivan were bleating in their eagerness to see America lied into an unnecessary war in Iraq, Ivins was a goat pushing against the flock:

Nov. 19, 2002: “The greatest risk for us in invading Iraq is probably not war itself, so much as: What happens after we win? . . . There is a batty degree of triumphalism loose in this country right now.”

Jan. 16, 2003: “I assume we can defeat Hussein without great cost to our side (God forgive me if that is hubris). The problem is what happens after we win. The country is 20 percent Kurd, 20 percent Sunni and 60 percent Shiite. Can you say, ‘Horrible three-way civil war?’ ”

July 14, 2003: “I opposed the war in Iraq because I thought it would lead to the peace from hell, but I’d rather not see my prediction come true and I don’t think we have much time left to avert it. That the occupation is not going well is apparent to everyone but Donald Rumsfeld . . . We don’t need people with credentials as right-wing ideologues and corporate privatizers — we need people who know how to fix water and power plants.”

Oct. 7, 2003: “Good thing we won the war, because the peace sure looks like a quagmire . . . I’ve got an even-money bet out that says more Americans will be killed in the peace than in the war, and more Iraqis will be killed by Americans in the peace than in the war. Not the first time I’ve had a bet out that I hoped I’d lose.”

Thank you, Paul Krugman, for scouting out those passages, and thank you E&P for bringing them out from behind the Gray Lady’s firewall. They remind us that while the sheep were helping the Bush administration carry this country off the cliff, there were goats like Molly Ivins (otherwise known as liberals) standing firm and voicing honest doubts and warnings, for which service they were called Bush-haters and (how did Sully put it?) “objectively pro-Saddam.” They were the true patriots during this most tawdry period of American history, and we should not let that fact be trampled in the dust as the Bush-boosters and war cheerleaders now scatter for cover. They were the ones who, like the rest of us, tried to use the tools of democracy to divert our country from its disastrous course, only to be shouted down or irngored outright.

Ivins enjoyed a rare bit of luck in that her experience as a Texas liberal and shrewd political observer gave her a front row seat for the spectacle of George W. Bush’s self-described ascension to the right hand of God. Her books about the rise and the coronation of the boy emperor — Shrub and Bushwacked — not only sold well, putting well-deserved bucks into her bank account, but they will also continue to tell us more about America in the first decade of the 21st century than the amassed columns of drowsy D.C. pundits like David Broder and professional ax-grinders like George F. Will.

Who will take Molly’s place? Nobody will take her place — she was irreplaceable because she was only herself. She was a grownup at a time when the public sphere has come to resemble an out-of-control day care center where the babbling and screaming of spoiled and arrogant children makes it impossible for adults even to hear themselves think. People like Molly Ivins don’t come marching off the assembly line. We can only hope to recognize them, and value them, during those times when it matters the most.

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