She's as beloved by liberals as she is despised by Dittoheads, but both sides would agree that Molly Ivins is rarely uninteresting. The Austin-based writer, whose blunt, shrewdly funny column is syndicated by about 200 U.S. newspapers, has just released her third collection of musings, You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You: Politics in the Clinton Years. As usual, she leaves no public figure or sacred cow unbarbecued.
Of Bob Dole, Ivins writes: "He gave us the immortal observation that tobacco is not addictive, but that too much milk is bad for us. The check from the dairy lobby must have been late that week." On Texas state Senator Drew Nixon's arrest while in the company of prostitutes: "He explained that he was only asking for directions. I find that an entirely credible defense; those who have observed Nixon in the Senate know that he frequently is completely lost."
But with the bombshells going off in Washington, does Ivins wish the book had been delayed so she could include a chapter on President Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and company? "I had time to rewrite the introduction, but not much else," Ivins says by phone. "There's this huge furor, but we've known [the truth] about, say, Gennifer Flowers for a long time. I'm also convinced that if your sex life is a component of your character, then it's a small one. And despite the constant hyperventilation in our business, the American people are doing a much better job of sorting it out. But in the book, I'm looking [mainly] at Clinton the politician."
Though Ivins's drawl is now heard on National Public Radio and on PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and her words appear in the New York Times and Esquire, she started her career in the '60s at the Houston Chronicle -- in the complaint department. "It was very good training, because people called to complain about interesting things," she says. "It wasn't about whether the stories were slanted or not; they complained about the news itself. When the topless bathing suit came out, it upset a lot of people. But they didn't have a problem with our accuracy. They called to say they didn't like the idea of the suit. Often when people are upset with the media, they're actually upset with what's happening. And very important things: Never leave the astrocast out of the paper. And messing with the comics? Not good."
Whether you laud or loathe Miz Molly's scribblings, don't doubt her deep love for her home state and its people -- heroic and despicable. "Phil Gramm [the U.S. senator from Texas] may be a schmuck," she observes, "but, then again, he's our schmuck."