Wow, talk about your extremes of modern-day American woman-hood. It was reported today that professional celebrity Anna Nicole Smith was found dead in South Florida. This comes just a week after the death of another, but very different, American woman: the journalist Molly Ivins.
I’ll leave the chatter of Smith’s death to others. But I have been reflecting quite a bit on the irrepressible Miss Ivins. She may have been the only Texan to ever have been given the key to the city of Santa Cruz.
I twice got the chance to interview Ivins, who, did you know, was born in Monterey before moving to East Texas as a child. She was blunt spoken and informal. She was famously known for her nickname for the current president — “Shrub” — and I heard it for the first time from her own mouth, back when George W. Bush was owner of the Texas Rangers and just thinking about a run for governor.
Unlike so many other nationally known pundits (especially liberal pundits), Molly Ivins was a true newspaper woman with just as strong opinions on the failings of the press as on the folly of Texas politicians.
I also really admired her politically feisty attitudes, providing an exception to the widespread belief that journalists are so detached and scared of their own viewpoints that they’re falling down on the job. Ivins paid heed to her inner BS detector and gave voice to liberal outrage while at the same time giving us all comfort that this too will pass.
I’m also a Southerner, as Molly was, and I’ve always been taken by women of her stripe, several of which I’ve known. There is a variation of Southern women that, by pure old stubbornness and horse sense, just have no patience for the restricted roles that Southern women are often given. They’re not always as liberal politically as Ivins was, but they’re always opinionated, brash and possessed of a easy familiarity with the joys and sorrows of life. I happened to be in Austin last fall when ex Gov. Ann Richards, an old Ivins friend and an iconic example of this kind of Southern woman, passed away. I watched at the state capitol, with the former governor lying in state in the rotunda, as hundreds of such women milled about both laughing loudly and sobbing openly.
My favorite Ivins memory goes to 2001, shortly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Ivins was scheduled to speak in Santa Cruz that fall and before that appearance, I was asked to be part of a panel at the Santa Cruz chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. On the panel, I suggested that the Bush administration’s invasion of Afghanistan wasn’t such a bad thing, considering that the religiously fanatical Taliban government was an odious affront to all free people and Osama bin Laden couldn’t be allowed to escape justice. It was not a popular opinion and I didn’t have the guts to rigorously defend my position. Just a couples of weeks later, Ivins appeared in front of an agitated crowd in Santa Cruz and defended the toppling of the Taliban on largely the same grounds. She was roundly booed by those who otherwise loved her. And yet, she held her ground firmly.
Boy, if Molly Ivins had only appeared in town before my appearance before the ACLU, I would likely have defended myself with more passion. Alas, I got no do-over.