Editorial: Amen, Sister Molly, Amen

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 17, 2003

Went to church again last night, for the second time this fall. Following Rev. Al Sharpton at Allen Temple Baptist Church on the revival circuit, this time the preacher was Rev. Molly Ivins, appearing at Berkeley’s First Congregational under the auspices of Cody’s Books to preach about her latest, “Bushwhacked.” The choir was all there to shout hallelujah—Berkeleyans of all descriptions who couldn’t be counted on to have a civil conversation at a commission meeting in the North Berkeley Senior Center, but who do realize that politics stops at the water’s edge. The water’s edge, in this case, is the easily predictable Bush-Schwarzenegger deal to carve up California and feed it to the corporations, especially the energy czars and the lumber barons. (Entrail readers on the Internet, notably Greg Palast, have seen the auguries in Arnie’s meeting with Enron honchos a couple of years ago.) And on the other shore, we’re on the edge of the deep muddy that is the Iraq occupation.  

Rev. Molly didn’t get into that kind of stuff—she didn’t need to. Her congregation already knows what’s up, chapter and verse, and what they really wanted to find out was what to do about it. 

Earnest Dean devotees in matching t-shirts asked leading questions designed to elicit an Ivins endorsement for their guru, which didn’t happen. Molly allowed as how she, like most political commentators, bets on elections, but, she says, she wins real money, unlike the others. Her secret is waiting until six weeks before the election to put her money down. With all due respect, that’s not a hard time to make the call. 

What’s hard, judging by the questions from the audience, is to know what to do now. 

Ivins told them she wasn’t doing what she’d done in the past, endorsing the candidate who best represented her political philosophy. No Kucinich, Sharpton or Moseley Braun for her this time. Even her Nader vote, she confessed, was kind of cheating, since in a state where Bush was sure to win she paired with a Republican in a swing state. So, what now, asked the congregation. She kind of likes Edwards, who’s turning out to be a pretty good populist. Kerry has more Elvis than she thought at first. She didn’t seem ready to comment on Clark.  

More questions, all with an underlying theology: How do we avoid one of the Sins Against the Holy Ghost, despair? Let a little sunshine in, said Rev. Molly. If her talk had one theme, it was that Politics Should Be Fun. That’s a hard sell in Berkeley. Her audience had come looking for some fun, and they laughed at all the jokes in the sermon, but when they stopped laughing the little worry lines were right back on their foreheads.  

As an action item she endorsed a standard piece of advice for liberal do-gooders: register new voters. To survivors of the Schwarzenegger coup this one seems tricky—who were all those people who voted for him, anyhow? Wouldn’t want to register more of them, whoever they were. Journalism students in the group asked how you inform the people when they don’t read anymore. No good answer to that one…. 

Where do we go from here? My own stock answer for a while now has been that we should put together bus-loads of non-threatening middle-aged Bay Area women to trek to the swing states in the middle of the country to encourage other older women to oppose Bush in a more vigorous way. They already know he’s a disaster. Women of a certain age consistently profile out as having the most sense in any electorate—the gender gap. We just need to let them know that they’re not alone. The Grandma-to-Grandma strategy…it could work. And if the Rev. Molly Ivins would agree to lead this crones’ crusade, it could even be fun.  

Becky O’Malley is executive editor of the Daily Planet.