You can't ignore politics, no matter how much you'd like to--Molly Ivins It took many years for me to realize that not everyone grew up in a house where politics dominated daily conversation, or where it was normal, let alone expected that a dinner with the family would include someone shouting back at the evening news. I would sooner hear "that bastard William Casey should face a court marshall" at dinner than "would you please pass the peas". Weren't all dinners like this?
So you can imagine my surprise at my first real dinner with a family that found discussing politics crude but had no qualms speculating on just who was visiting the neighbors wife at lunchtime. Neighborhood voyerism and suburban speculation were the norm in the middle-America existence of my peers. But they were not my norm.
There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity -- like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule -- that's what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel -- it's vulgar.
But if the soundtrack of my youth was a running political commentary, I soon figured out that it was recorded by only a select few. They were men. White men. And even in my liberal-leaning household that was an unescapable fact.
By now I had learned two things: my family is bizarre beyond words and I'm enveloped in a conversation to which I can somehow not have full participatory rights. I was held hostage to political discourse, desperate to have my say but clueless how to speak.
Thank god for Molly Ivins. Here was a woman unapologetic in her loud and brash manner, who spoke truth to power conseqeuences be damned. I literally drank in her words, her wisdom, so eager to have them as my own. She was funny. She was smart. And she didn't give a damn.
There's never been a law yet that didn't have a ridiculous consequence in some unusual situation; there's probably never been a government program that didn't accidentally benefit someone it wasn't intended to. Most people who work in government understand that what you do about it is fix the problem -- you don't just attack the whole government.
But she did, actually, give a damn. She dedicated her life to making sure others did as well. And when I look at the current state of political discourse, the direction some want to take our domestic and international policy, and the degree of helplessness so many feel in the wake of garbage coming from Washington I can only think of one thing.
Damn I miss Molly Ivins.
Steve Lohr is a reporter for The New York Times on technology, business and economics. In 2013, he was a member of the team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting
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