Molly Ivins Quotes and Political Humor

Molly Ivins laughing in 1986

John Pineda / Getty Images

You either loved or hated Molly Ivins. She was a political commentator with a sharp wit—a take-no-prisoners critic of what she considered silly, outrageous, or unfair. Molly Ivins was based in Texas, and both loved and made fun of her state and its culture and politicians.

Life and Career

Dates: August 30, 1944 - January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins was, though she was most connected with Texas, born in Monterey, California. Most of her childhood was in Houston, Texas, where her father was a business executive in the oil and gas industry. She went north for her education, getting her bachelor's degree from Smith College, after a brief time at Scripps College, and then earned her master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. While at Smith, she interned at the Houston Chronicle. 

Her first assignment was with the Minneapolis Tribune, where she covered the police beat, the first woman to do so. In the 1970s, she worked for the Texas Observer. She often published op-eds in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The New York Times, wanting a more lively columnist, hired her away from Texas in 1976. She served as the bureau chief for the Rocky Mountain states. Her style was, however, apparently more lively than the Times expected, and she rebelled against what she saw as authoritarian control. 

She returned to Texas in the 1980s to write for the Dallas Times Herald, given freedom to write a column as she wished. During this time, she also published her first book and won two Pulitzer prizes. When that paper was closed, she worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her column went into syndication, and appeared in hundreds of papers.

Selected Quotes

The first rule of holes: when you're in one, stop digging.
What you need is sustained outrage... there's far too much unthinking respect given to authority.
Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous.
The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion.
Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful.
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.
I believe that ignorance is the root of all evil. And that no one knows the truth.
You can't ignore politics, no matter how much you'd like to.
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.
What stuns me most about contemporary politics is not even that the system has been so badly corrupted by money. It is that so few people get the connection between their lives and what the bozos do in Washington and our state capitols.
Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television sitcom that you can decide you don't much care for.
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.
I believe in practicing prudence at least once every two or three years.
It's hard to argue against cynics—they always sound smarter than optimists because they have so much evidence on their side.
Being slightly paranoid is like being slightly pregnant—it tends to get worse.
I still believe in Hope—mostly because there's no such place as Fingers Crossed, Arkansas.
One function of the income gap is that the people at the top of the heap have a hard time even seeing those at the bottom. They practically need a telescope. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt probably didn't waste a lot of time thinking about the people who built their pyramids, either. OK, so it's not that bad yet—but it's getting that bad.
It's like, duh. Just when you thought there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the two parties, the Republicans go and prove you're wrong.
In the real world, there are only two ways to deal with corporate misbehavior: One is through government regulation and the other is by taking them to court. What has happened over 20 years of free-market proselytizing is that we have dangerously weakened both forms of restraint, first through the craze for "deregulation" and second through endless rounds of "tort reform," all of which have the effect of cutting off citizens' access to the courts. By legally bribing politicians with campaign contributions, the corporations have bought themselves immunity from lawsuits on many levels.
Any nation that can survive what we have lately in the way of government, is on the high road to permanent glory.
During a recent panel on the numerous failures of American journalism, I proposed that almost all stories about government should begin: "Look out! They're about to smack you around again!"
I am not anti-gun. I'm pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We'd turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don't ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives.
The United States of America is still run by its citizens. The government works for us. Rank imperialism and warmongering are not American traditions or values. We do not need to dominate the world. We want and need to work with other nations. We want to find solutions other than killing people. Not in our name, not with our money, not with our children's blood.
We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. (From her last column, January 11, 2007)
I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point—race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.
If you grew up white before the civil rights movement anywhere in the South, all grown-ups lied. They'd tell you stuff like, "Don't drink out of the colored fountain, dear, it's dirty." In the white part of town, the white fountain was always covered with chewing gum and the marks of grubby kids' paws, and the colored fountain was always clean. Children can be horribly logical.
In Texas, we do not hold high expectations for the [governor's] office; it's mostly been occupied by crooks, dorks and the comatose.
Good thing we've still got politics in Texas—finest form of free entertainment ever invented.
Better than the zoo. Better than the circus. [on Texas politics]
I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.
As a veteran of many an electoral defeat at the polls, may I remind you of the proper Texan attitude toward slaughter at the polls?
A few years before Billie Carr died this September at age 74, a friend called to ask how she was doing. "Well," she said, "They just impeached my boy up in Washington, there's not a Democrat left in statewide office in Texas, the Republicans have taken every judgeship in Harris County, and yesterday I found out I have cancer."
"I think I'll go out and get a pregnancy test because with my luck, it'll come back positive."
Naturally, when it comes to voting, we in Texas are accustomed to discerning that fine hair's-breadth worth of difference that makes one hopeless dipstick slightly less awful than the other. But it does raise the question: Why bother?
Oh, it's just that your life is at stake.
It's a low-tax, low-service state—so shoot us. The only depressing part is that, unlike Mississippi, we can afford to do better. We just don't.
Texas' performance, or lack of it, on Medicaid is already the subject of one federal court order and is likely to attract another as we continue to lag in providing health insurance for poor kids.As they say around the Texas Legislature, if you can't drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money, and vote against 'em anyway, you don't belong in office.
What is a teenager in San Francisco to rebel against, for pity's sake? Their parents are all so busy trying to be non-judgmental, it's no wonder they take to dyeing their hair green.
I know vegetarians don't like to hear this, but God made an awful lot of land that's good for nothing but grazing.
The problem with those who choose received Authority over fact and logic is how they choose which part of Authority to obey. The Bible famously contradicts itself at many points (I have never understood why any Christian would choose the Old Testament over the New), and the Koran can be read as a wonderfully compassionate and humanistic document. Which suggests that the problem of fundamentalism lies not with authority, but with ourselves.
The Israelis and the Palestinians are not condemned to some eternal hell where they have to kill each other forever.
Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.
Conservatives have been mad at the Supreme Court since it decided to desegregate the schools in 1954 and seen fit to blame the federal bench for everything that has happened since then that they don’t like.
You want moral leadership? Try the clergy. It's their job.
...Phil Gramm, the senator from Enron... could have knocked me over with Michael Huffington's brain.
Say, here's an item: A group of right-wing journalists famed for their impartiality has set themselves up as the Patriotism Police. No less distinguished a crowd than Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, The New York Post editorial page and the Fox News Channel—quite a bunch of Pulitzer winners there—are now passing judgment on whether media outlets that do actual reporting are sufficiently one-sided for their taste.
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.
Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.

Quotes About Others

If he gets even more sedate, we will have to water him twice a week. [about then-President Ronald Reagan]
If ignorance ever goes to $40 a barrel, I want drillin' rights on that man's head. [on Dick Armey]
There is one area in which I think Paglia and I would agree that politically correct feminism has produced a noticeable inequity. Nowadays, when a woman behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable fashion, we say, "Poor dear, it's probably PMS." Whereas, if a man behaves in a hysterical and disagreeable fashion, we say, "What an asshole." Let me leap to correct this unfairness by saying of Paglia, Sheesh, what an asshole. [about Camille Paglia]
Everyone knows the man has no clue, but no one there has the courage to say it. I mean, good gawd, the man is as he always has been: barely adequate. [on George W. Bush]
Let me say for the umpteenth time, George W. is not a stupid man. The IQ of his gut, however, is open to debate. In Texas, his gut led him to believe the death penalty has a deterrent effect, even though he acknowledged there was no evidence to support his gut's feeling. When his gut, or something, causes him to announce that he does not believe in global warming—as though it were a theological proposition—we once again find his gut ruling that evidence is irrelevant. In my opinion, Bush's gut should not be entrusted with making peace in the Middle East. [on George W. Bush]
Last week, I began a sentence by saying, "If Bush had any imagination ..." and then I hit myself. Silly me. [on George W. Bush]
If, at the end of this short book, you find W. Bush's political resume a little light, don't blame us. There's really not much there. We have been looking for six years. [on then-candidate George W. Bush, in a 2000 book on his "short but happy political life"]
If you think his daddy had trouble with "the vision thing," wait till you meet this one. [on George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush]
"What I am against is quotas. I am against hard quotas, quotas they basically delineate based upon whatever. However they delineate, quotas, I think vulcanize society. So I don't know how that fits into what everybody else is saying, their relative positions, but that's my position." [quoting George W. Bush in one of his "Bushisms"]
Personally, I think he's further evidence that the Great Scriptwriter in the sky has an overdeveloped sense of irony. [on then-President George H. W. Bush]

Quotes About Molly Ivins

She bellies up to the gourmet cracker-barrel and delivers laid-back wisdom with the serenity of a down-home Buddha who has discovered that stool softeners really work. – Florence King
When Ivins writes, there has to be a jalapeno in every line. – critic James Thurman
I should confess that I've always been more of an observer than a participant in Texas Womanhood: the spirit was willing but I was declared ineligible on grounds of size early. You can't be six feet tall and cute, both. I think I was first named captain of the basketball team when I was four and that's what I've been ever since. – Molly Ivins about Molly Ivins