That was my first thought, my only thought, all I had time to think before a D10T or something that felt an awful lot like one, slammed my stomach from the inside.
Not elegant. Not poetic. Neither am I. But there was a world in it just the same.
Oh, shit shit shit.
When my mother died of liver cancer at the age I am now, I was expecting it. I’d been expecting it for years. We all had. We knew it was coming and we were prepared. I didn’t cry. I’d done all my crying every time over the 15 years she suffered with it when what looked like remission turned out to be no more than a little breathing space before the next onslaught of the disease. Every time she slipped back into that dark world of hospitals and chemo treatments, lost hair, black-and-blue arms wrist to shoulder from injections and blood-taking and intravenous feeding, the weight that had taken so long to put back on melting away in a matter of days, I would leave her room after each visit, find a corner somewhere downstairs or outside, maybe sitting in my car, and cry.
I never said oh, shit.
So this feeling I’m having is odd. I didn’t know Molly Ivins. I never met her, never even saw her in person. I only read her column like millions of other people, bought her books like millions of other people, admired her guts, her wit, and her persistence like millions of other people. I knew she had been fighting breast cancer for years and that lately she’d been losing. I knew the symptoms – I saw my mother go through it – and I thought I was prepared.
And yet here I am, staring at this screen and saying oh, shit as if I had lost one of my few real friends.
But in a way that’s exactly what just happened.
I read Molly all through both Clinton Administrations and, like millions of others, I appreciated her caustic wit, her willingness to say what no one else would say (a trait she shared with another favorite, Helen Thomas), and the cutting insight that went straight to the heart of something and stayed there.
But it wasn’t until George W Bush began his campaign for president in 1997 (that’s when he started collecting $$$) that Molly and I turned some kind of corner.
She was writing columns about Bush as governor of Texas that laid bare W’s true nature and beliefs in words that anyone could understand. What she wrote was frightening.
I knew about the Bush family, about Poppy and the Carlyle Group and their close ties to Saudi Arabia. I knew about W’s past, his reputation at Yale (it wasn’t good), his pretense that he was a Methodist when he was really a born-again fundamentalist who’d long ago abandoned Billy Graham in favor of Pat Robertson, and ran to Bob Jones University to lick his wounds whenever the winds of fortune handed him a slap upside the head. I knew that Karl Rove was running his campaign and I knew enough about Rove’s Atwater-style dirty tricks to be worried about the connection between them.
But until I read Molly I didn’t really know how deep Bush’s meanness and deceit went. She exposed his affection for cruel jokes, his almost comical incompetence, his virulent hatred of environmentalism and corresponding worship of “bidness”, his “would have been illegal if anyone but a Bush had done them” machinations in the Ranger stadium deal, his fondness for signing death warrants – a day, she wrote, when he always seemed to be at his perkiest – and his ruthless arrogance, a willingness to use whatever power he had not just to eliminate his enemies, political and otherwise, but to crush them and then humiliate them. It was the pure joy he took in being the ultimate upper-class bully, a man who used his privileged position as scion of a powerful and very rich family to run rough-shod over anyone who disagreed with him and then to escape any and all repercussions for either his behavior or his massive failures that most offended Molly and – through her – most frightened me.
She opened all this up to the public and, at the time, she was practically the only one doing it. The rest of the MSM had swallowed whole the “compassionate conservative” fantasy Rove had fashioned for them in his cellar laboratory out of tin cans and old shoelaces.
And the country was dutifully buying this scam. As I began to talk to the people around me about the stuff Molly was writing, I realized pretty quick that nobody had a clue. Worse, they didn’t want one.
That, I think, was where this unexpected feeling of personal loss that I’m having now was born: for a time, it seemed it was just Molly and me against the forces of evil.
“But,” you’re going to say, “How could that be? You live in…Massachusetts!”
No. I live in north-central Mass, near the Vermont/New Hampshire/New York borders. This is Republican country. If we had the population of the Boston Corridor, Massachusetts would be a clone of New Hampshire in the 50’s: anti-tax, pro-gun, pro-war, pro-business, anti-environmentalist, Free Trade Forever and kill the dirty hippie Democrats. With a few exceptions, everyone I knew was in one of two camps: at best they thought Dubya (or “Dumbya” as Molly christened him) was a harmless enough moderate with odd ideas but nothing they couldn’t live with; at worst they were out-and-out Bush Boosters convinced he was going to bring the country into a Golden Age of Profit.
Sometimes, in the midst of the arguments I was having with them, they all seemed so sure that I wondered if I wasn’t over-reacting, making more out of Bush’s perceived flaws than they deserved.
But then Molly’s next column would come out with fresh evidence that, if anything, Bush was even more dangerous than I thought, so back I’d go into the War of Words, trying to spread the news.
I can’t say I was successful. In fact, I can say categorically that I failed Molly miserably. She gave me all the ammunition I could have asked for but as far as I know I didn’t turn one head, cause one doubt. At least not at the time.
One of those people sent me an email recently, and this is part of what he wrote:
…. I had voted pretty much Republican all my life…not because I supported any “party” but I guess it was just the sales pitch and the delivery of the bullshit that I got caught up in… or “duped me” into believing that swung me that way… H O W E VE R. . .
Since this administration has come into office I have “rethunk” my entire stand…. They have done everything in their power to turn me into something else…
Are we living in a Corporate Fascist State….? [Yes, Jack. We are. -MA]
When did it all happen… seems like it came all at once but when thinking about it I feel as though it has been slipping slowly this way since Vietnam…Kennedy Bay of Pigs Assasination and all that shit…
(to put it in my words)
And most of the kids today are fucking useless lemmings looking for a King Lemming to lead them over a cliff without a soul enough to even stand up against it…
Because he remembers me badgering him about Bush, he comes as close to admitting he should have listened as he probably ever will and ends:
Anyway…. still and hopefully for ever (as the new telecommunications bill that the FCC snuck in seems to be grappling for what little freedom of speech is left….) You, and people like you can keep on keeping on….
(all ellipses and spaces in the orginal)
He probably hasn’t noticed yet but a lot of people are standing up now. A lot of people who’ve been through the same journey, been pushed to the wall by the Bush Gang in exactly the same way, reached the same inevitable conclusions.
Maybe Molly and I planted a seed all those years ago. I’d like to think so. We were working together in those days, usually alone. She was, to steal a movie line, “a voice of reason at a time of great madness”, and I leaned on her pretty heavy. She never let me down. She never let any of us down. She was there right to the end, but more important, she was there at the beginning when nobody else was.
That’s why I wasn’t prepared to accept her passing. That’s why I feel as if a friend, colleague, veteran of the same wars, has died and not just another writer I liked. After Jack, Martin and Bobby, I didn’t think any death of a public figure not known to me personally could affect me.
I was wrong.
My friend Molly is gone and I didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye. But I can make her a promise.
Me, and people like me, will keep on keeping on. And, to some extent, Molly and her legacy will be the reason.
Update: Remembrance of Molly (A sample)
Mark Gisleson, Norwegianity (he wrote it – I doublechecked): Goodbye to Molly, I’m sad to see her go
Mark honors Molly by taking up the cudgel against Bush’s childish and dangerous horseplay with heavy equipment:
All I know is that you just don’t do shit like what Bush did. Heavy equipment operators are rock steady, hard nosed men and women who have the trust of every person they work with. Hotshot idiots like Bush, in the construction world, are called laborers, and they’re not allowed to touch the heavy equipment and that includes trucks, backhoes or anything bigger than a shovel. That’s because heavy equipment is incredibly dangerous, and only idiots think otherwise.
Adam Lipscomb, A Violently Executed Blog: Had I your tongues and eyes, I’ld use them so That heaven’s vault should crack.
Make some goddamn noise, in Molly’s memory. It’s the least we can fucking do.
Kevin Hayden, The American Street: A Sad Farewell to an American Great
Teens develop mad crushes on rock stars and actors. I spent much of my adult life mad about Molly. It didn’t matter that she was tall and large and fit no conventional definition of beautiful. Because when she smiled, nobody smiled wider. She was, to me, the greatest columnist that ever lived.
Barbara O’Brien, The Mahablog: Diminished
Molly Ivins has been a bright light in very dark times. Back when Bush was riding high in the polls and news media was dancing to his tune, Molly Ivins’s columns were proof that there was at least one sane citizen left in America.
Ezra Klein: Molly Ivins
I don’t really believe she’s died. Can you imagine the savage mockery she’d heap on Death, what with that ridiculous cowl, anachronistic scythe, and anorexic-chic figure? And she would have never sat still long enough to be rowed across the River Styx.
David Sirota, Sirotablog: Molly Ivins, RIP
The progressive movement – and me personally – lost a hero today.
Randy Paul, Beautiful Horizons: Molly Ivins
Randy actually met her when she spoke at a convention of broadcasters he’d helped arrange.
When she spoke, she showed her courage. She spoke to the broadcasters in unequivocal terms of their responsibility to serve the public and the need for them to provide free air time for political races . This to an industry that was back then and still is in an orgy of self-congratulation on what they believe to be public service. She was right then and she’s still right.
ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES: RIP Molly Ivins