Sustained Outrage…With a Smile: ‘Life and Times of Molly Ivins’ Playing in Hillcrest

by on October 14, 2019 · 6 comments

in History, Media

By Brett Warnke

“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins,” is playing up in Hillcrest.  If you’ve got 93 minutes to spare this week, I’d spend every one of them at this fine movie.  It’s a funny biopic about a writer who walked with Civil Rights marchers, warned us about both George Bushes, and could drink the notoriously pickled Texas legislature right out of the bar.

You’ve probably heard of Molly Ivins (1944-2007).  Occasionally, you’ll find her books Who Let The Dogs In or Bushwhacked or Shrub flung out on the Bargain Bin shelves.  Grab them. Buy them all. Open them when the empty suits on the left say “we can’t because it’s costly” or when the idiots on the right say “we won’t because they’re brown.”

Molly was raised in a Texas house with a pool, born to a right-wing oil man who was shocked she allowed black friends to the house (and the pool).  Her mother was wonderfully lazy and would watch TV, talk on the phone, and personified the suburban wife Molly never wanted to be. Molly found herself rebelling her way into thought:  Smith College, The New York Times, and fighting for Civil Rights.

Far from being the moldy windbaggery of yesterday’s political scrums, reading Molly’s columns will make you shake your head at the sheer marvelous stupidity of our silly land.  She clearly felt a great and genuine joy in the possibilities of Americans, especially those who stood up to the grifters, bullies, toads, racists, know-nothings, phonies and money-grubbers in the ascendant Right of her adulthood.  But she also seemed exasperated by the political disabilities of the liberal forces to challenge these crooks.

All of them became the “targets” in her hilarious columns.

If anything was consistent about Molly’s work it was her hostility to meanness, her detestation at the kick-down kiss-up culture that has overtaken Washington and become our most recent American trait.  She understood the powerful use politeness and propriety to control the conversation.

Molly was charming but could be deliciously rude. If contempt is an inevitable part of politics, Molly’s contempt was aimed at the powerful, “the electeds,” the pols and their rich backers who squandered their talents on vanity and greed.  Unlike bigot pundits like Rush or frauds like Newt (men who truly hated her) Molly never pilloried the powerless.

She laughed loudly and lived big in the scenes and interviews with her friends.  (You can also watch her full interviews online or at C-Span.)  But for anyone has grown up with an alcoholic in the family, Molly’s wide smiles seems to mask a melancholy she often eased with late-night cups.

The documentary does a wonderful job of focusing on the Molly of the 1970s, a leftie bored by the liberal establishment who wanders from South to East and back West.  She finds herself in the crosshairs of Southern racists but also the persnickety squares in New York, men like Abe Rosenthal who were intimidated by Nixon-Agnew’s thuggery but found the courage to beat down the distinctive voices of talented journalists like Molly.

After leaving the Times, she earned a twice-weekly column in Dallas.  The notorious right-wing politics of the state offered her a platform to rural liberals, but it also brought death threats and subtle censorship by the state’s oligarchy.  She fought on through her own demons and cancer, just as the country blundered through Enron’s scandals, unplanned wars and the crises that have become our realities.

If you go through Molly’s columns, you just smile at how much this lady got right:  the toxic but enduring politics of Buchanan and Newt; her warnings about climate change in 2000; the big money rot vomiting up crooks like Tom Delay or tadpoles like McConnell; and especially her criticisms of the yellow-bellied corruption of the DNC’s many hangers-on.  In fact, Molly was so disgusted in 1996 by Clinton’s betrayals of the poor she didn’t bother voting for him again.

Each page of her sharp insights seems to demonstrate how we landed in our present Locust Years. She understood us for the mess we are.

This is also a documentary worth seeing because of our current hysteria around Trump.  He does pop up in her columns, but only as a way of her joking about the media’s obsession with him instead of real policy back in the 90s.

“No one talks about how to fix anything anymore,” she lamented in a column, way back in 1994! Her key insight, the political logjam and the media corruption, formed the perfect storm in that awful year 2016.

Her columns also remind us that America was not “great,” not even sixteen years ago when she saw another President hurting people because he could:

“Bush’s lies now fill volumes. He lied us into two hideously unfair tax cuts; he lied us into an unnecessary war with disastrous consequences; he lied us into the PATRIOT Act, eviscerating our freedoms.”

So what’s left?

Well, Molly called for a “sustained outrage” to combat the powerful forces of cynicism and despair, as well as the reaction that grows in their presence.   Far from being more mild or polite—more nice—we need a more sustained outrage at the sorry state of things. We need to struggle and get hell-hot and damn loud about it. But perhaps, in the spirit of Molly Ivins, we can wear a big bright boozy smile as we drive our rusted trucks into battle and raise hell, y’all.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page October 15, 2019 at 10:17 am

Great tribute, Brett, I loved Molly Ivins, I’ll look for the movie.


ZZ October 15, 2019 at 11:22 am

I remember reading Molly’s syndicated column in the 1990s when I was a kid in my hometown paper. She was always the most entertaining of the liberal columnists on the op-ed page.


Laura October 15, 2019 at 11:53 am

Beautifully written – also, may I say, I’d rather drink a Busch than have a Bush


Laura Rhodes October 15, 2019 at 11:57 am

Great review; even greater lady


sealintheSelkirks October 15, 2019 at 1:06 pm

I miss Molly Ivins.

And George Carlin. We REALLY need his voice back.

But we do still have Jim Hightower down in Texas speaking up so all is not totally lost.

Hope this flick makes it to Spokane. I’ll drive down to see it.



Laura D in OB October 15, 2019 at 10:49 pm

I lived in Dallas, Texas for 8 years and Molly Ivins helped me through that experience. I think her attitude about politics was something I took to heart — “you either gotta laugh, cry, or throw up!” Seems to be relevant today. Sorry she’s not around to fry our current president and current political situation. She’d have a lot to lampoon!


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