Molly Ivins believes the world desperately needs more fun. Of course, no one is more aware of how challenging that is in this gloomy period of American politics than Ivins herself. "Especially on the liberal side where you don't always win, and in Texas where you don't often win," as she averred at Book People on March 24. So instead of reading selections from her latest collection of columns, You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You: Politics in the Clinton Years (Random House, $23 hard), Ivins thought'd be more fun to just answer questions and chat about current events "in this frisky time" with the more than 100 folks sprawled throughout the bookstore's third floor construction site-turned-temporary lecture hall.
"I've already read the book; in fact I wrote it," Ivins said to appreciative laughter. Ivins has been making governmental goings-on enjoyable for her readers for more than two decades and her most recent book is no exception. While she is quick to point out the sins of the powerful, there is an uncommon affection for her subjects. Indeed, among the best selections in You Got to Dance are tributes to two Texas Politicians: "The National Politician of Texas," a sharply written column about Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, and "She Sounded Like God," a memorial to Barbara Jordan. As she confessed to the audience, Ivins actually likes politicians. "I realize this is a position so unfashionable, I'm actually looking for some more socially acceptable perversion to take up - perhaps interspecies dating."
But Ivins' admiration for those skilled in the craft of American politics does not blind her to the system's numerous flaws. Referring to the book's title, Ivins elaborated: "Politicians don't vote with voters anymore, they vote with the money that put them in office." She also told the audience that anyone concerned about the country's future should put their energy and money into ending campaign financing as we know it. In her piece "Welfare for Politicians: Let's Have Reform on That" she calls current campaign financing "legalized bribery."
"I am for public financing of all campaigns, and if there were a politician in Washington with half a brain, he or she would be jumping to the head of that parade right now," Ivins writes. "I'll tell you how you sell it in a New York minute: Combine public financing with election reform. No paid political advertising, period." But unfortunately for the average citizen (and luckily for the politicians and corporations) her "brethren and sisteren in the media" would rather concentrate on personal scandals, like Bill Clinton's sex life. "I found that there is no way to get through this time without discussing the president's dick, which isn't the only thing about Bill Clinton that points to the right," she said, with a comedienne's timing. "I am feeling like such a fuddy-dud these days, I've been around so long that I don't care who these politicians are screwing in private, as long as they're not screwing the public."
As in her book, Ivins demonstrated her ability to make complicated political issues seem as breezy as gossip. She clearly believes that politics is not like a picture on a wall that you can stand back and judge, but rather something that everyone needs to feel a part of, work hard for, and have fun with. "My theory is there never has been a time when the promise of America was a done deal. When liberty and justice for all was a fait accompli. Every generation of Americans has had to work to ensure the promise of this country came closer to the reality." In the meantime, she joked, "Beer is a magnificent facilitator for fun." - Lisa Tozzi