More of Molly Ivins, again at full gallop


Molly Ivins is back and the "g's" are droppin' like the defenders at the Alamo. It was like findin' Castro in the refrigerator -- a favorite Molly-ism -- seein' her last compilation of columns on the New York Times best-seller list. Who knew the world was waitin' to hear about the Texas Legislature? As they say in Amarillo, the book bidness is strange.

OK, that's out of my system. But reading Ms. Ivins is like talking to my Southern relatives, or drinking mint juleps; it brings out the drawl in me.

When Ms. Ivins last checked in -- with "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?" -- she was a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald and pseudo-Texan George Bush was president. Well, her newspaper died, the former president lives in Houston, and Texas Speaker of the House Gib Lewis, a favorite target, finally stepped down. But Molly Ivins keeps on going in "Nothin' But the Good Times Ahead."

The title is the kicker on a column about the presidential primary and, in that context, it's pure irony. Applied to Ms. Ivins' life, however, it may be prophetic. Things seem as smooth as cream gravy for this Texas arthur, as she calls herself, once touted as a possible replacement for Andy Rooney on "60 Minutes."

It is hard, with this native Texan, to tell where the birthright ends and the shtick begins. Still, it sells, and more power to her.

We need more female columnists who aren't chosen simply because they're female. Ms. Ivins writes about politics; her idea of a personal story is telling about the day a hog ran down her street. She does confess she "never made a shrewd career move, never dressed for success, never got married, and [am not] a lesbian, which at least would have been interesting."

She likes having the last word, and does well by it in this mix of newspaper and magazine pieces, which begin in 1991 and take us through the apocalyptic conclusion at the Branch Davidian compound.

When John Tower died in a plane crash, her reminiscence provided a much-needed reminder that he was more than the wild and crazy guy depicted during his failed bid for defense secretary. She is gentler, still -- almost too gentle -- with Henry Cisneros, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and his decision not to run for the Texas Senate seat this year.

When John Connally died this year, however, Ms. Ivins refused to contribute to what she called the "hagiographic slop."

"His enduring legacy to the state is a system of higher education that sometimes threatens to become first-rate and is still cheap," she wrote. "And he raised the taxes to pay for it too. For that he deserves much credit. Believe me, we've had governors who never achieved anything at all."

Her other thoughtful turns here include a lively piece on populism and a heart-felt wrestle with the abortion issue. But I don't think Ms. Ivins spent more than 12 months on the best-seller list because of this material. Her popularity probably lies in the vomit jokes (President Bush's visit to Japan), the Perot jokes and straight reporting of Gib Lewis' malapropisms.

Oh, where is Maryland's Gib Lewis? Not even Gov. William Donald Schaefer, no stranger to the strange utterance, can compete with a man who says: "I think they're just beatin' their heads against a dead horse."

The Texas speaker also recommended cutting the budget through "employee nutrition," warned others not to "skim the cream off the crop here," and, faced with a difficult decision, said: "We'll run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes that booger."

Alas, the Gibber is gone. But in Texas politics, it's only a matter time before another orator takes his place, giving Ms. Ivins more material.

Ms. Lippman is a Metro reporter for The Sun. She lived in Texas for eight years, and has four pairs of cowboy boots and two dawgs.


Title: "Nothin' But the Good Times Ahead"

Author: Molly Ivins

Publisher: Random House

Length, price: 255 pages, $23

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