Molly Ivins Talks the Talk

June 2, 2004

Heather Heilman
Phone: (504) 865-5714

Ever since Drew Ivins entered Tulane College four years ago there's been talk of inviting his famous aunt for a campus visit.

ivinsHe's graduating this month, but she made it to Tulane in time to sit in on some of his classes.

"I've come to cheer y'all up about the state of politics in this great nation," Molly Ivins told the audience packed into McAlister Auditorium to hear her speak last month as part of the Alchon Forum.

The columnist, author, member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize described herself as "optimistic to the point of idiocy."

Ivins is an "accidental" expert on George W. Bush. She's known him since they were both high school students in Texas and reported on his political ascent during her tenure at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

She is the coauthor of Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush and Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America. She is not the kind of liberal who is consumed with hatred of Bush. Instead, she finds him likable and intelligent and even admits that he's had a few good ideas. Nevertheless, she thinks he's been a disaster as president.

"Grownups can make that distinction," she said. She's not yet willing to place a bet that John Kerry, whom she considers a "boring stiff," will succeed in defeating Bush in this November's election. She thinks Kerry needs to hire a voice coach and that he should think bigger. It's not enough to be the alternative to Bush. "You have to give people a reason to vote for you," she said.

So why is she so excited and hopeful about this year's presidential race? Because of the Internet. "The Internet has the potential to bring people back into politics," she said.

The fact that Howard Dean came out of relative obscurity to raise $43 million stunned the political world. The only real problem with the Internet as a political engine is that there are no gatekeepers to ensure the information it circulates is accurate, and bad information can poison the well of democracy. But if new technology transforms American politics, it won't be a minute too soon, in her opinion.

Despite her congenital optimism, she worries that American politics is on the brink of being irreparably corrupted by corporate money. "In 1988, the Supreme Court decided that money equals free speech," she said. "Actually, money is that green stuff you buy things with. Free speech is what comes out of your mouth, hopefully when your brain is engaged. They are not the same thing."

She thinks that public campaign finance is the solution, or at least part of it. But it's also important that average citizens don't give up on politics out of cynicism and disgust.

"There is much to be cynical about," she admitted. "But we are heirs to the most magnificent political legacy that any people has ever received," she said before reciting from the Declaration of Independence. "That legacy should not be thrown away. Politics is not just about those people in Washington. It's our deal. We're the board members. They're just the people we hired to drive the bus for awhile."

And besides, Ivins said, politics can be a lot of fun. There's no doubt she gets a great deal of entertainment out of watching government in action at all levels. "If you took all the fools out of the legislature, it would no longer be a representative body," she commented about Texas politics. The Alchon Forum is a lecture series funded by the late Bernard Alchon to bring speakers with a multiple array of perspectives to campus.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000