Molly Ivins Talks About Who Let the Dogs In!

The inimitable Molly Ivins has just published a new book entitled: “Who Let the Dogs In? Incredible Political Animals I Have Known,” which is a collection of essays about politics in Texas and the United States. Molly is perhaps the foremost and irreverent Bush watcher in America. She and Jim Hightower are the ones you need to read if you want to know about the Texas roots of the corporate crony, war loving, oil-slicked evil doers in the White House. (Our previous BuzzFlash interview with Molly Ivins)

The interview was conducted shortly before the Democratic Convention, for, by Sean-Paul Kelley, Editor of The Agonist, a webzine focusing on international news and media criticism.

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BuzzFlash: Where did you do your undergrad work? I’m curious because on the dust jacket to your new book it mentions that one of your proudest moments was being tossed off the campus of Texas A&M?

Molly Ivins: It’s one of those deals where the punchline is much better than the story. I did my undergraduate work at Smith College, Massachusetts.

Let’s see, I was editor of the Texas Observer in the 1970s. One day some hippie looking youths appeared in my office and announced that they were the entire membership of Concerned Students of Texas A&M. One of the things that they were concerned about was that the Administration had rules that you could not have political speakers on campus. Now they had already had Barry Goldwater and John Tower speak on the campus that year, but the administration said they did not give political speeches.

These kids wanted to try and contest the rules; they wanted to challenge it. So they needed to get someone of significant liberal stature to agree to come and make a speech. They had tried to get everyone in the state and I was 99th and last on their list. And they said ‘Gosh, if you don’t come no one will do it.’ So I agreed to do it. And in fact for a while it looked like it was going to develop into an interesting First Amendment Case because the administration had threatened to take out an injunction to prevent me from speaking on campus.

But, unfortunately somebody with better sense prevailed and what they finally told these kids was unless they moved this speech off campus their student charter of their organization would be yanked and they would be thrown out of the Student Union. So, my kids backed down and I spoke across the street at the Methodist Student Center. Where I did my dead level best to incite a riot, I think about seven people came out and they all clapped politely when I was finished. And then we all went out for a beer.

BuzzFlash: I want to start by talking a bit about Texas politics: have you seen the Richard Murray (a prominent political science professor in Texas) piece about how the Democrats have lost Texas, and how to regain it?

Molly Ivins: Yes, actually I read an account of it and I talked to Glenn Smith about it, because Murray did a presentation on it at the Texas Democratic Convention.

BuzzFlash: Murray was very critical of the ‘multicultural ticket’ strategy? We had [Tony] Sanchez and Ron Kirk running on the ticket, what do you think about his criticism of that?

Molly Ivins: Well, I still think it was a good idea but Sanchez was such a poor candidate. I have always said that it is not a good idea for people who make a bunch of money to start in politics at the top. If they are interested and they want to do public service good on ‘em. Why don’t they run for the school board or the county commission and get a feel for it and see if they like it. Right now these big rich people want to run for governor or senator and something like that and they feel entitled to do it. And I think that Sanchez was just not a good candidate. I don’t think the color of the people made very much difference.

BuzzFlash: Tell me a little about Governor “Goodhair” (Governor Rick Perry of Texas)?

Molly Ivins: That is a head of hair every Texan can be proud of, regardless of party!

BuzzFlash: What do you think his plans are for the future?

It’s hard to say, it looks at least pretty certain that Carole Keeton Rylander Strayhorn (current Texas State Comptroller) is going to challenge him. It still seems possible that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison may come home and challenge him for that job [the governorship], too. There still seems to be some buzz around that in Republican circles.

BuzzFlash: I have some friends in state government and they tell me that the Republicans are privatizing everything in sight and selling it off to their cronies. Is this true?

Molly Ivins: It’s really quite extraordinary, yes. What may happen is that [Tom] Craddock (a Texas Representative close to DeLay) may end up being indicted along with DeLay and several others, but we are all sort of waiting.

BuzzFlash: You’ve included three columns about Tom Delay in your book. Do you want to tell me a bit more about him? Is he as sanctimonious in person as he seems to be in the media? Does the guy running against him have a chance?

Molly Ivins: Yes, it is such a fascinating dual personality. You have the sanctimonious Christian whose announced views are to bring Biblical world-views to government combined with absolute political thuggery.

DeLay himself does not seem to feel that there is any conflict, which I find fascinating.

BuzzFlash: Does the fellow running against him have any chance?

Molly Ivins: Well, there has been a lot of debate about that. His name is Morrison and he’s the son of a well known trial lawyer — and apparently not as effective as his dad. But there is a chance. First of all in order to mess up all the Democratic districts they had to carve quite a few Republicans out of DeLay’s district and his district is now a bit messy. The teachers are real unhappy with him. And there is some fair amount of stink associated with his name after all these years. Even if he gets indicted before the election, which I don’t know will happen, he’ll just announce it as being political.

BuzzFlash: What do you think about this year’s Democratic ticket?

Molly Ivins: I am actually working something approaching a little enthusiasm, well it’s a little bit better than an ‘Anybody but Bush’ attitude. Actually I think there is a lot to be said about Kerry. I was glad to see a serious profile of him in the New Yorker.

BuzzFlash: I have a question about the introduction to your new book. You wrote something that struck me as very insightful. I’ll read it back to you and then you can elaborate: “I don’t think the Christian Right is driving what is happening in this country politically, nor is it even an equal partner with economic fundamentalism. There’s a large extent to which the Christian Right is being played for a bunch of suckers by Country Club Conservatives who are interested in nothing more than their own pocketbooks.”

Molly Ivins: One of the reasons that I have a lot of respect for Bush is at the political end of politics — he’s not interested in policy, governance bores him, but he’s very good at the political end of politics, the elections and how to win them and the strategy involved and how to play it.

There is often that impression that he is Karl Rove’s puppet. Actually I think they are much more like partners and even twins sometimes.

And I have a lot of respect for his strengths on that front. One of the things that he and Rove did when he was governor, and he’s doing it successfully as president too, is holding that awkward coalition together: the Christian Right and the Club For Growth People, Citizens for a Sound Economy and all these other lovely little people who worship the free market. I think he is very good at playing along with the Christian Right and basically just throwing them enough bones to keep them quiet.

BuzzFlash: What are your thoughts, if any, about Alan Greenspan? Most people tend to portray him as the ‘Economic White Knight?’

Molly Ivins: No, I am not a Greenspan fan. I think he has been given much too much credit. I am with the people who doubt him. I think he is like the Wizard of Oz, there’s just nothing behind that curtain.

BuzzFlash: Tell me about Rush Limbaugh, “Dittoheads” and Displaced anger?

Molly Ivins: I don’t pretend to have any expertise towards psychiatry and I try to avoid armchair analysis, but what the shrinks say is that its extremely common if you’re a kid and your dad comes home and whacks you over the head. Well, he’s too big to hit him back so what you do is go over and whack your kid brother over the head and then your kid brother goes over and whacks the dog. That’s displaced anger and there is a lot of it in politics.

And what is interesting to me is how successful people like Limbaugh have been in telling people who really are getting screwed, I mean, it’s not fair, they don’t have equal opportunities, there is a whole lot that has happened that has made their lives less comfortable, less pleasant, less bearable, narrower and uglier. And that is true for a lot of Americans. And they sense it but they do not know who to get mad at.

So, they listen to guys like Limbaugh who tell them the reason everything is going to hell is because of a bunch of pointy-headed professors on college campuses and political correctness and feminists and all these people. Let me tell you something: college professors and politically correct liberals and feminists by and large don’t run those huge corporations that lay off 10,000 people at a time. They are not in charge of companies that move so many jobs overseas. They don’t run the S&Ls and the big Financial Institutions that screw people over. And it seems to me that this misdirection of anger is a terrible waste of perfectly good anger.

BuzzFlash: You mention in your introduction that journalism is in a ‘parlous state.’ Tell me what you think is wrong with journalism in general?

Molly Ivins: I am a little grumpy about journalism but I think there is reason for hope. I think we are at the point where the concentration of ownership is really visibly starting to affect the quality of journalism. I know it’s been this way for a while but the only thing new is the degree. And I think it is really starting to tell. It’s not like that when you get bought by some major media corporation. I mean my last paper was sold three times while I worked for it.

I’m not saying that anybody from corporate headquarters calls and says, “Oh, Molly Ivins can’t criticize George W. Bush.” No one at that level knows or cares about journalism and what is being said. What’s being done is some bean-counter trains their telescope on their little property down in Texas and says, “Ah! My property down in Texas is not making as much as our property in Kansas City of a similar size. We’ll have to call Texas and tell them to get their quarterly profit margin up.”

And ultimately there are only two ways you can squeeze more money out of a newspaper when there is a profit squeeze, as there always is. An old editor of mine used to say that the profits are down from obscene to excessive.

You can squeeze the news hole and literally have less room in the paper for news or you can squeeze the news gathering staff and have less people out there gathering news.

I think the net result is that there is just not as much information in the paper anymore.

BuzzFlash: On a different track, are you familiar with blogs?

Molly Ivins: Yes, and that is where I am optimistic. I think the Internet can potentially have an amazingly positive effect in both journalism and politics.

BuzzFlash: On another topic, how do the current times resemble the “Saturday Night Massacre”? (The night President Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.)

Molly Ivins: For years, I have always made fun of liberals who are always, it seems to me, prone to take alarm and hear the sound of jack-booted fascism around every corner. But I am really concerned at the degree of damage to the Bill Of Rights. I mean, for the administration to have maintained that they had the right to put an American citizen in jail indefinitely without a right to counsel or a speedy trial, especially without even knowing what they are accused of, is scary. That was this administration’s position, that they could do this to an American citizen. And for there not to have been a greater outcry than there was is just, to me, shocking.

BuzzFlash: What is the single most important piece of advice about politics today that you would give an 18-year-old who has never voted?

Molly Ivins: Oh, raise hell and have fun!

BuzzFlash: If you could make one reform, right now, what would it be?

Molly Ivins: Campaign finance reform. I’d do public campaign finance.

BuzzFlash: Of all the people you have written about and come into contact with over the years, which is the person you most admire? Why?

Molly Ivins: Good question. Boy, there have been a lot of them. There really have been. I have different ones for different reasons, too. I have a lot of heroes. And there are real heroes in politics. But it’s always safer to wait until after they are dead to announce it.

BuzzFlash: How about I narrow the question down a little bit? How about a Texas politician?

Molly Ivins: Well, of course Barbara Jordan is one of my heroes, Sam Rayburn and Henry B. Gonzales.

BuzzFlash: I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

Molly Ivins: You’re welcome, my pleasure.