The More Things Change…1998 to 2017

Molly Ivins Dance

You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You by Molly Ivins

My father loved to read Molly Ivins.  Her brand of populist liberalism, her concern for the powerless, her razor-sharp wit were all right up his alley.  As a New Deal Democrat, Daddy didn’t have much sympathy for corporate-backed, hypocritical, poll-watching politicians.

So when I went to my father’s house earlier this year to help clear out his library, I brought home the four Ivins books he had at the time plus a biography of the Texas firebrand.  Daddy had almost all of Ivins’ works, but some he had given away.  (He once gave me a copy of one of her books that he said he had purchased at the remainder table at the local bookstore, only to come home and find out he already had two copies of the same book.)

I was looking for a quick and lively read a few days ago after working through a couple of more difficult offerings, and pulled You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You off the bookshelf.  This is Ivins’ 1998 take on the Clinton years.  The more I read I thought the more things have stayed the same.  With just a few changes in names and scandals, this could have been written as we head into 2017.  Just a few examples will suffice.

  • “‘Vote for me, I’m against the government,’ seems an unlikely slogan, but there it is.  Having come to the capital to ‘change the way Washington works,’ they proceeded to make it worse.”
  • “I was raised in East Texas, I live in South Austin, and I’m not about to pretend that racism, sexism, and homophobia aren’t common as dirt in this country.  Any time I want to hear someone use ugly words, I don’t even have to leave my neighborhood.  But it has not been common to hear this kind of language in public debate in this country for years.  This has nothing to do with political correctness.  This is as simple as manners.”
  • “The impulse to make ourselves safer by making ourselves less free is an old one, even here.  When we are badly frightened, we think we can make ourselves safer by sacrificing some of our liberties.”
  • “What a curious entity a corporation is – a legal artifact that exists to make a profit.  yet the law views a corporation as a person.  The initial constitutional view of corporations as persons was limited to the right to sue and to be sued, which makes perfect economic sense for contract law.  But starting in 1948, a series of Supreme Court decisions have given corporations other individual liberties as well.  For example, it has been held that corporations have a right to privacy – a right to which women still have only a contested claim.  Aunt Susan (B. Anthony) would have turned incandescent over that one.”  (And this was written before the “Citizens United” decision.)
  • “Which brings us to the First Rule of Newt-Watching: Whatever he accuses his opponents of, look for carefully in his own behavior.”  (Written before the impeachment of Clinton for – the same thing Gingrich was doing at the time…’nuff said)

I can go on and on, but suffice it to say that a government run by and for corporations; politicians who care much more about their corporate funders in the 1% rather than real people; a political party that stokes white working class resentment instead of dealing with their real issues of poverty, estrangement, and economic inequality; a politician who accuses his opponent of the very thing he’s doing ten time worse…so little has changed in twenty years.

Molly Ivins is a fun read, but the real issues she highlighted in the 1990s – and which continue to drive politics today – are very real and very sad. However, when you read her obituary of Barbara Jordan – She Sounded Like God – you see that people who care can have impacts well beyond their individual lives.

“Her role as a role model may have been her most important.  One little black girl used to walk by Jordan’s home every day on her way to school and think, ‘Barbara Jordan grew up right here, too.’ Today Ruth Simmons is president of Smith College.”  (Written before Ruth Simmons became the president of Brown University, our son Andrew’s alma mater.)

Andrew with Ruth Simmons

Andrew with Brown University President Ruth Simmons in 2012

“This country is stuffed full of nice folks.  You can meet them almost anywhere, even in Washington, D.C.  It’s not so much that we need to take up arms against a sea of troubles.  We just need to get the hogs out of the creek so the water can clear up.”

Good thoughts to remember as we enter 2017.

More to come…

DJB

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