Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Molly Ivins Takes Apart Reagan, the Bushes and Other Politicians in "Who Let the Dogs In"

(This interview originally published in the Newark Star-Ledger in August 2004)

This interview took place three years before Ivins died of breast cancer. She was a blast, an American original. I imagine she is up in Heaven, savaging Rick Perry.

Molly Ivins is a rare breed of journalist. She is a Texas liberal who has covered the Lone Star State and national politics for four decades with her lacerating wit, and has lashed into the political and personal foibles of a nonpartisan gallery of politicians, including Bill Clinton, former Texas governor Ann Richards and George W. Bush.

Her collected essays, Who Let the Dogs In” (Random House, $22.95) cover Ivins’ political writing from Ronald Reagan to the second Bush administration. Ivins slices and dices Ronald Reagan’s political charisma, tackles the sleazy Texas politicos and chronicles the Clinton scandals. Ivins reserves her strongest dose of vitriol for George W. Bush, also known as “Dubya”, who she views as dangerously unskilled and inarticulate in his present job.

Ivins, 59, was raised in Houston, Texas, and educated at Smith College and Columbia University. She has been a political reporter for the New York Times, edited the progressive Texas Observer and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She is the author of five other books, including “Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush.” A three-time Pulitzer finalist, she is now a syndicated columnist. Ivins spoke with free-lance writer Dylan Foley by telephone from her home in Austin, Texas.

Q. Why did you publish a retrospective of your work?

A. Well, my editor, the young and talented Jonathan Karp, who looks like he is 12 years old wanted to do it. Having a career retrospective makes me feel slightly dead. I think that publishers realize that any books, pro-Bush or anti-Bush are going to sell well before November.

Q. How did you get into political writing?

A. I had done a lot of street reporting, covering a lot of the upheaval of the 1960s. When I came back to Texas, to edit the Texas Observer, a progressive magazine, I went to the opening of the texas Legislature. It was like the first day of school. All the legislatures are hitting each other on the butt. One man said to the other, “You’ll never guess were I found myself last night. She was beautiful and discreet.”

Q. You say you actually knew George W. Bush in high school?

A. I went to one Houston prep school and he went to another, before he was shipped out to Andover. He hung out with my friends and dated a few of my girlfriends. He was affable and pleasant, but not too deep.

Q. How do you view George Bush now?

A. First of all, he really is a Texan. He has that unique combination, religiosity, anti-intellectualism and machismo. He also has a provincialism that is particular to Texas. He is often underestimated. He is particularly good at getting elected. He is certainly not (Presidential advisor) Karl Rove’s puppet. They are more of a team. Governing bores George. He doesn’t believe that anything government does has an affect on on people’s lives. He believes that government should provide for a “healthy bizness climate.”

In 2000, Dubai reacted very badly to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report that said that Texas was number one in the states in hunger among the poor. He thought that it was a Clinton administration plot to discredit him as governor. He said, “Since I’m the governor, don’t you think I should know if people are hungry?” Well, yes.

Dubya is horribly underqualified to be president. Whether you like him or not, not one would with such a major foreign policy crisis on him in his first year of office. After he was elected, people thought that he’d have people around his like Colin Powell, with foreign policy experience, who’d been to the rodeo before. Instead, it turns out the things are controlled by the neocon hawks, like Donald Rumsfeld@@ Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Q. Who do you think will win the 2004 Presidential election?

A. I could be wrong, and I’ve been wrong before, and it would be smart to refuse to comment, but I think that Kerry is going to win. There are so many variables, like whether the Iraq War is going to get worse. I would tell the betting people that it is too early to put your money down.

Right now, the Iraq War is going to go down the memory hole. It does not exist on the front of the newspapers. A very compliant will let Bush do this. Bush is now saying that he wants to e considered the “peace president.”

After September 11th, Bush squandered the outpouring of world support by going on this disastrous venture in Iraq. With the war, Bush thought he was going to have an easy victory. Instead, our troops are liked staked goats in the desert, being targets for every terrorist group. Then there will be the hideous three-way civil war that is going to develop.

Q. In the new book, you refer to Texas as the Laboratory of Bad Government. What do you mean by this?

A. If someone has a bad political idea, they tried it here first. In Texas, we have abstinence education. We are number one in teen births. We are very proud of that. Kids can’t get condoms. Bush also tried voluntary compliance with pollution laws. Of more than 600 factories, only three agreed to comply, and only one reduced emissions. We are number one in pollution in the country. Then we also tried faith-based social services first.

Q. After covering politics for 35 years, how do maintain your humor and optimism?

A. I think that my optimism is a congenital defect. The humor is also self-evident. There are three options in terms of covering politics in Texas: You can laugh, cry or throw up. I tried throwing up. Once your stomach gets strong enough, you find things are funny. Texas politics are a combination of professional wrestling and the Three Stooges. You don’t have to make any of this up.

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