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Thursday, February 20, 2003

Molly Ivins Can Say That, But She's Wrong

Molly Ivins, I am surprised to find, is credited as author on several books. I thought she'd written just four: Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?, Nothin' But Good Times Ahead, You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You, and Shrub. I have those four; at least the first three are autographed.

I really liked Ivins when she wrote humorously on politics, especially the good ol' boys of Texas politics. She came off a little shrill sometimes, but those occasions were just minor deviations from tone in some otherwise-enjoyable pieces.

But now shrill indignation is her whole oeuvre, and if a little bit of humor crawls into her writing it must fend for itself the best it can.

Take for example this column defending the French. Yes. Not only is it humorless (in fact, indignant at the surrender humor directed at the French---how unfair! nobody should be unfair in pursuit of a pointed quip!), but it's incoherent. It starts out with defending the bravery of the French in WWI and WWII, and then turns to colonialism.

Roosevelt was anti-colonialist. That system was a great evil, a greater horror even than Nazism or Stalinism.


Instead of insisting on freedom for the colonies of Europe, we let our allies carry on with the system...

I sense stupidity hovering in the wings. So, Roosevelt the Colossus was anti-colonialist, and had he lived he would have spoken, his words materializing as smoke and flame, and Europe would have trembled and released the poor captive peoples. But he died, and Truman ignored the plight of the suffering, or some such dreck.

I guess she's forgotten the US's anti-colonialist stance throughout much of the 19th and early 20th century, during which it gleefully tripped up the colonial powers whenever it could.

She's also forgotten that Britain did turn loose of India fairly quickly after WWII, on account of it [Britain] was broke and couldn't afford it [India] anymore.

But we go on. She then turns to praising French bravery at Dien Bien Phu, apparently forgetting that the brave French warriors were fighting for evil colonialism. Oh, but I suppose it's not their fault, poor dears. The soldiers themselves were the equivalent of the little brown people who are tricked into joining the US Army.

Then there's this:

Charles de Gaulle came back into power in 1958, specifically elected to keep Algeria French. I consider de Gaulle's long, slow, delicate, elephantine withdrawal (de Gaulle even looked like an elephant) one of the single greatest acts of statesmanship in history. Only de Gaulle could have done that.

Er, isn't choosing to "keep" Algeria French an act of that evil colonialism? And isn't a "long, slow, delicate" withdrawal bad? I mean we want liberation now, right? (One could argue that, once you have established colonies, dropping them like hot rocks is the worst possible thing you could do. A withdrawal should be slow enough to allow an indigenous government to set up, a constitution to be drafted, elections to be held, etc. But that doesn't really jibe with her outrage that we "allowed" our European allies to keep their colonies after WWII.)

She finishes up with some soppy stuff about 9/11 (she was in Paris that day). She says that the French left flowers and notes:

...some in ancient, spidery handwriting referring to WWI: "Lafayette is still with you."

She also says, "We Americans are famously ahistorical." Guess so. I thought "Lafayette" referred to the Marquis de Lafayette, who helped Washington win the Revolutionary War. When Pershing arrived in Paris during WWI, he (or his aide) is said to have stood before Lafayette's tomb and said, "Lafayette, we are here." The notes make more sense if they refer to the Revolution. But, hey, I'm an ahistorical, badly-educated (publik skool!) American, so what do I know?

She concludes:

Does it not occur to anyone that these are very old friends of ours, trying to tell us what they think they know about being hated by weak enemies in the Third World?

Yes, apparently this occurs to a lot of people, who are wrong. They are wrong if they think that Americans must necessarily swallow European received wisdom uncritically. They're wrong if they think that France had the best solution to their problem, or that their problems and ours are necessarily very similar. They're wrong if they think the French are only interested in peace and freedom and ice cream cones for all. And they're really wrong if they think the French have our best interests at heart.

Ivins drops names in this column: "For those of you who have not read Paris 1919..." "If you have read Leopold's Ghost..." "If you have seen the film Battle of Algiers..." Maybe we should be doing that rather than wasting our lives reading Molly Ivins' Dick and Jane version of history.

Via InstantMan, who now has some email from readers about Ivins's column, and points to this claim from Ross Douthat that this was the worst column ever. Like Glenn, I think this is going too far. Why, there's a column in Eastbourne...

I agree with him about the colonialism-was-evilest remark, but I didn't like to delve into it without armies of facts at my back. Douthat has a platoon of facts with him.

InstaUpdate: Jonah Goldberg (mention in Ivins's column) responds here and here.

I believe the bloom came off the Molly rose for me when she started wailing over the Great and Terrible Scientist Shortage, about which don't get me started.

UPDATE: Jeff of golden-hued Sterling Silver has some of them reinforcement facts I was lacking. Also see this Molly round-up over at Misha's place.