Let's remember some happier times in politics. The election of John F. Kennedy, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the local pride when our own Jimmy Carter was elected president, and then the morally uplifting triumph of voting for our first African-American president, celebrated by that immense crowd gathered in Chicago's Grant Park -- when that beautiful family of Barack, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha Obama walked out on that stage as our new First Family!
And then my memories turn to three of my all-time favorite women in politics, who were all from Texas. First, there was Barbara Jordan (first African-American congresswoman from Texas), with a voice like God and a moral power to match. A civil rights leader before being elected to the U.S. House from Texas, she was chosen to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. She distinguished herself mightily as a member of the Judiciary Committee hearings to consider the impeachment of Richard Nixon. She used her deep knowledge of the Constitution to explain the issues to a rapt audience of the live-televised hearings. I was captivated by this extraordinary woman and was immediately ready to reserve her a chair on the Supreme Court. She would have dignified that bench; they needed her then, and they need her now. We need her now. I often think how she would have articulated, as no one else could, the absurdity of what our politics has become. Unfortunately, she developed multiple sclerosis and retired from Congress, although she was able to continue teaching law in Texas for a few more years before her untimely death at age 59. It became widely know, after her death, that she had been lesbian and had a life partner of many years.
Next was the fiesty Texas governor, Ann Richards, a school teacher before running for office, first as Treasurer and then as Governor. In 1988 she gave the Democratic Convention keynote speech, where her wicked wit, her strong feminist stands, and her celebrated one-liners gave her a national reputation. George H. W. Bush was the Republican candidate, so Richards used her down-home Texas charm to rankle the patrician New Englander, who never mastered Texas ways or speech and even had trouble being articulate in English at times. Here's Richard's zinger: "I'm delighted to be here with you this evening, because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like. . . . Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." Richards was admired for her political skills and for her candor about her own struggles in the past with alcohol and heavy smoking, and she became a role model for enouraging others to stick with their rehab programs. She died of cancer in 2006 and is survived by, among others, her daughter Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood.
And then there was Molly Ivins, cracker-jack, liberal journalist who skewered politicians that trampled on causes she was devoted to: freedom, justice, and straight-shooting. With a masters degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, she later wrote for the New York Times and papers in Dallas and Fort Worth. I had the privilege of being in the audience when she addressed the Atlanta branch of the ACLU just after George W. Bush had been elected president. Having explained that she had known Bush since high school days, she began her talk by staring thoughtfully at the audience for a moment and then saying: "People, we are in deep shit." One wonders what she would say about our present situation.
Ivins was marvelous at the colorful phrase that echoed Texas-speak and made a serious point with irony, satire, and just plain gutsy folksiness. She coined the nickname "Shrub" for Bush; and she needled Pat Buchanan for his "culture war" speech by saying that "it probably sounded better in the original German." Her rapier wit often sparked controversy, especially when directed at politicians -- such as: "If his IQ slips any lower, we'll have to water him twice a day." Her paper countered the criticism by putting up billboards proclaiming: "Molly Ivins can't say that, can she?" -- which became the title for one of her later books. Some more Ivins' quotes:
"Good thing we've still got politics in Texas -- finest form of free entertainment ever invented."
"I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults."
"I am intrigued by the arguments of those who claim to follow the judicial doctrine of original intent. How do they know it was the dearest wish of Thomas Jefferson's heart that teen-age drug dealers should cruise the cities of this nation perforating their fellow citizens with assault rifles? Channelling?"
She tackled the gun question by saying that she's not anti-gun; she's pro-knife. With knives, you have to chase down your victim to stab him, which gives you a good bit of exercise and could lead to a nation of better fit people. Besides, knives don't ricochet, and few people die while cleaning their knives.
[Reference to George W. Bush presidency]
"Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention."
"George W. Bush is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America. . . . We can find no evidence that it has ever occurred to him to questions whether it is wise to do what big business wants."
"It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America."
"I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt. It doesn't actually hurt, but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle."
[And perhaps this one could even be addressed to us all here on the eve of the coming Gilt Age in the White House. Unfortunately, Ivins developed breast cancer and died in 2007.]
"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
Barbara, Ann, and Mollie -- RIP, but Lordy, we need you now even more than we needed you back then.