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Collected Columns of a Gadfly Texas Liberal

IN 1973, Texas journalist Molly Ivins wrote an article for the now-defunct Houston Journalism Review called "The Perils and Pitfalls of Reporting in the Lone Star State." In it she asked, "Would you like to know why people don't read newspapers anymore? Because newspapers are boring. Dull. Tedious. Unreadable. No fun." After reading this book, I've got the solution to this problem for newspaper publishers: Clone Molly Ivins.She's a six-foot-tall straight shooter "properly reared by a right-wing family in East Texas" who became a liberal and makes no bones about writing from that perspective. As to why she's a liberal she says, "I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point - race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything." "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?" is a compilation of columns and articles Ivins has written for the Dallas Times Herald, where she is a columnist, and for magazines like Mother Jones, Ms., the Progressive, and the Atlantic. Ivins will take on anybody - including members of her own profession - but her favorite targets are politicians. Then again, given the absurdities of Texas politics, particularly the machinations of the state legislature, it's pretty hard to miss with that material. While you're reading this book you want to repeat every other story to whomever is within earshot. Here's a conversation between two representatives about redistricting: " 'Lookahere, Dell-win [Delwin Jones of Lubbock]," said Floyd (Guy Floyd of San Antonio), much aggrieved, "look at this district here. You've got a great big ball at the one end and then a little bitty ol' strip a' land goes for about 300 miles, and then a great big ol' ball at the other end. It looks like a dumbbell. Now the courts say the districts h ave to be com-pact and con-tiguous. Is that your idea a' com-pact and con-tiguous?" "Delwin Jones meditated at some length before replying, "Wha-ell, in a artistic sense, it is. Ivins writes about a lot more than "the Lege," as she calls the state legislature. There's the Reagan administration: "It's such a fun administration - half of it is underaverage and the other half is under indictment." Texas Governor's races: "Clements and White had one debate. Political debates are sort of like stock-car races - no one really cares who wins, they just want to see the crashes. If there aren't any crashes, every one votes the event a total bore." Texas women: "They used to say that Texa s was hell on women and horses - I don't know why they stopped." And, of course, Democrats: "We have a president who vetoed Congress's first effort to raise the minimum wage in thirteen years but supports a tax cut for the richest people in the nation, and House Democrats are so offended that anyone should introduce the notion of class-warfare politics into the discussion? ... Breathes there a Democrat with soul so dead he cannot recognize that as an issue from heaven? A normal Democrat would kill for an is sue like that. But not the House Democrats. Like Les AuCoin, they recoiled in horror from the thought of 'class-warfare politics.' What the hell do they think the Republicans are practicing - mah-jongg?" Ivin's writing may be glib, and many of her stories are ribald - after all she writes mostly about Texas, and people there tend to be more direct and less inhibited than in other parts. But what's clear as a Texas spring is that Ivins is a serious person, with strong beliefs. Two articles in particular stayed with me long after I finished them. One tells the story of Beulah MacDonald, a black woman who sued the Ku Klux Klan (and won) after her son was lynched in 1981, yes, 1981. And in the other, one of the most personal in the book, Ivins recalls a close friend who died in Vietnam. The first dramatically underscores the continuing - some even say escalating - tragedy of race relations in our country and the strength necessary to transcend the horror. The second poignantly describes the enduring emotional costs of the Vietnam War. If you're a liberal, you'll finish this book wanting Molly Ivins to keep on writing as long as she can breathe. If you're a conservative, you'll wish you had someone of her talent and humor in your ranks. (Sorry, she's much funnier than P. J. O'Rourke.) And if you're like most people, sort of in between the two, then you'll have made a great find - a funny journalist who doesn't equivocate - and you'll realize what a good read you've had.

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