Last month, syndicated columnist Molly Ivins, who truly loved a good argument, died at home in Austin, Texas after finally losing her biggest argument with breast cancer.
Now that Ivins has returned to spirit, perhaps she could ease our loss a bit by sharing some of that abundant spirit with Forest Park. A spirit that wouldn’t let the frequent nonsense of public life pass without incisive comment.
Happily, recent indications are that a growing number of people in our village have indeed become infected with an Ivins-like spirit. Forest Parkers are asking some probing questions of our mayoral candidates, and the letters page of the Review has never been more robust.
Molly, who was a must read for anyone who valued the speaking of truth to the powerful, would have approved. Her prose wasn’t merely forceful, it was concussive. She was an artist with the rare ability to be stylishly blunt, eloquently insulting-more Texas sassy than eloquent at times-but always a damn fun read, so long as you weren’t the one in her crosshairs.
With a few rare exceptions, which she humbly noted, she was relentlessly factual. As good a writer as she was, as strongly as she felt about her opinions, she was a reporter first, a political writer second.
Ivins’ example taught us that if you choose to write commentary-a letter to the editor, a newspaper column, a blog-you can’t be too concerned about how people will react. The only thing that really matters is making sure you have your facts straight. If people still don’t like your opinions, they can try and prove you wrong.
Ivins greatest gift to her readers was her delight in jolting them out of their apathy. She stirred things up, something most politicians and too many citizens avoid, especially those ensconced in a comfortable status quo. Ivins gleefully and unapologetically embraced her disdain of elected officials who misused their power or grew arrogant and indifferent to honest criticism.
As the Sun-Times’ Carol Marin wrote, Ivins “yanked the powerful off their pedestals.”
The Chicago Tribune-no ideological soul mate of Ivins-noted in a tribute how she routinely drove conservatives to dyspepsia with her acerbic wit and laser focus on inconvenient and unflattering facts about the Bush administration, among other targets. And though she was an unabashed liberal, she didn’t spare the left when she believed they had it coming.
Though she took her arguments seriously, Ivins never took her many accomplishments too seriously. Her editor at the Creators Syndicate, Anthony Zurcher, recalled being at her house for a dinner party and noticing that Ivins was using several of her many journalism plaques as trivets for the pots of chili and tamales.
“Well, what else am I going to do with ’em?” she shrugged.
Yesterday we winnowed down the Forest Park mayoral field to two candidates. In seven weeks we’ll make a final choice on mayor and four new council members. It would be a good thing for people here to continue to be infected with Ivins’ spirit, to share her insistence on being able to knowledgeably observe the conduct of those we elect, and to routinely voice our points of view, in this paper and at government meetings.
For those who protest that you don’t have the time or energy to follow Ivins’ example, I’ll simply note that she dictated her final two columns on her deathbed.