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Molly Ivins in Philadelphia
Last uploaded : Tuesday 5th Oct 2004 at 05:27
Contributed by : Carol Gould


It was all the more instructive for me that I had had negligible exposure to Molly Ivins when I heard her speak in Philadelphia this week. Of mature years, Ivins is an iconoclastic columnist who combines homespun Texan humour with cutting criticism of American political figures. She has become a household name in the United States and received a standing ovation even before she began her talk to a capacity crowd at the Philadelphia Free Library. What is even more remarkable is the fact that she is not published in the local newspapers -- only in The Doylestown Intelligencer (?a hotbed of liberal thinking? quipped the event?s moderator) -- but a mostly older crowd had obviously discovered her on the Web.

The author of ?Bushwhacked,? Ivins is said to have coined the word ?Shrub? to describe President George W Bush (?he deserves a diminutive,? noted the moderator) and has accused the American media of being the lapdog, not the watchdog of politicians.

Ivins chided the audience for having such small-time scandals (Philadelphia?s Mayor, John Street, is in the middle of a financial scandal allegedly involving his close associates) -- ?You all gotta think big? she said, reminding her listeners that in Texas scandals include prosecution of public officials for shooting whooping cranes. On a serious note that drew loud cheers, she noted that three aides to Republican Congressman Tom deLay have been indicted for alleged wrongdoing.

In a spirit of fairness Ivins criticised John Kerry for his ?strange arm gesture? and said President Bush had told an Amish group that God speaks through him. ?I personally think God can say ?nuclear? and understands the word ?agreement?? she observed. Regarding 9/11, Ivins was stinging in her criticism of the Administration, most particularly the lack of cooperation between the FBI and CIA and, she added, ?others, bless their hearts.? Fear has made us less free, she said, adding that Attorney General John Ashcroft does not make her think ?charm,? rather, he makes her ?think sex.? Reacting to the laughter, she said ?We do have fun in this country.? She did not hesitate to remind the audience that this sort of levity would not be possible in parts of Texas. Even more laughter ensued when she lost her thread and warned that with age and senior moments, two people ? can?t remember the same thing at the same time.?

The skill of Ivins in bringing an audience from levity to sobriety followed the senior joke : she asserted to a hushed crowd the revolutionary nature of the Preamble of the US Constitution and the right of the people to overthrow a government that curtails the freedoms of its citizens and denies its inalienable rights. She then criticised the Left for not having fun and for seeing a fascist in every corner whilst perpetually looking like angry mourners . (This fell flat but many would say she is right.) Lightening up even in the face of adversity is a Texan art, she advised the group, relating the story of the adoption of Martin Luther King Day as a commemoration in the Lone Star State provided Confederate Heroes Day was also adopted as a holiday. The Ku Klux Klan protested anyway and there was more outrage amongst the watching crowd over a man indecently exposing himself than over the presence of the Klan and of too many movie theatres -- ?in Texas we have imagination and beer.?

Again, Ivins brought the audience back from comedy to grim reality with a reminder that this will be an event-driven Presidential election and that a new terror attack or the arrest of bin Laden will affect the result in favour of President Bush. ?Don?t misunderestimate him,? she reflected, noting that Bush Senior?s sentences ?had no subject, no predicate, and ended somewhere else.?

The major news this week has been the publication by ?The Iconoclast,? the newspaper of the President?s local town, Crawford, Texas of a long list of misdemeanours committed by the Bush Administration and its endorsement of John Kerry. The Editor has been getting hate mail. Ivins related the story of John Braham of Waco, Texas ( ?the Vatican City of the Baptists?) who had said ?we don?t hold Baptists under the water long enough? and was promptly shot dead. People who name their paper ?The Iconoclast,? she said, ?can take the heat.?

Ivins asked the audience not to condemn Bush Junior for the allegations of Nazi connections in his family, telling us that her garn pappy was not so nice, either.

The audience was a group of devoted followers but one did wonder how Ivins would have been received just up the road in Fishtown or South Philly. Her original and supremely witty delivery will be missed if John Kerry wins: her fame has arisen from her relentless satire of the Bush Administration, but in a dynamic democracy one should expect the same from her should a President John Kerry fall short of the country?s hopes in a few month?s time.

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