In this last column, dated Jan. 11, 2007, Molly expresses her wish that we become more vocal, more involved, and more powerful. She wrote that "the people have the obligation to make sure our will is implemented. . . . We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans . . ."
She told us years earlier how she became powerful. That information was presented as an insight she had about herself, written after her father developed advanced cancer and shot himself to death in 1998: "I believe that all the strength I have comes from learning how to stand up to him."
Her father, James, a conservative Republican, had served as a Navy officer in the Pacific in World War II. He was general counsel and later president of the Tenneco Corporation, an oil and gas company. Dinner discussions at the family's home in Houston often ended in screams and hollers, as Molly and her father went head-to-head on the issues of the day, particularly the war in Vietnam, civil rights, and the women's movement.
When dealing with her father's conservatism, Molly must have sensed that he didn't consider truth a top priority. He might have represented loyalty, or tradition, or righteousness, but not truth. For her, though, truth mattered most, and lies were the worst sin. Growing up in the South before the civil-rights movement, she realized that grown-ups lied about race. "Once you figure out they're lying to you about race," she noted, "you start to question everything."
Young Molly Ivins not only wanted truth--she needed it. She knew that only through truth, as best she could figure it out and express it, could she grow as a person and become the woman of her destiny. Truth wasn't a commodity to be possessed, but she could approach it and hope to keep it in sight through her goodness, integrity, openness, and humor.
As Molly was pursuing truth, she acquired the power that it bestows. At one point, her career was in jeopardy when her satirical columns in the 1980s resulted in her editors at the old Dallas Times Herald being challenged by the city's elite: "Who is this person to be saying those things," they demanded to know. The newspaper backed her up, and on billboards around the city posted these words: "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?" That billboard proclamation became the title of her first book.
How can we grant Molly her last wish? We can acquire power, as she did, by absorbing the truth about the American empire and its military-industrial-financial complex. Seeing the extent of this corruption of our ideals can be shocking. Our nation's elite are like parents who are extremely dysfunctional. On a family level, a process of awakening and maturing occurs when we come out of denial and childish innocence to understand the weaknesses and imperfections of our parents. The same mechanism applies on a national level, and it's how we become our own person.
Standing up to the right wing challenges us greatly, as it did for Molly when facing first her father and then other brokers of power. What would happen if we became more comfortable with our power, as if it were our birthright? Can we imagine feeling our authority as champions of truth and manifesting it in our body and our voice? It's Dick Cheney's trick to impart to his voice the resonance of authority, but because he doesn't represent truth his bluster is all a hoax.
Whatever our age and circumstances, we can also acquire power with deeper self-knowledge. We have a built-in tyranny that saps our strength. This is the illegitimate rule of the inner critic. The worst aspects of the right wing are modeled on this negative presence in our psyche. Both the inner critic and the right wing are often cruel, irrational, demeaning, and interested in power for power's sake. The inner critic is a caricature of our experience of our fathers and mothers, and it acquires the worst features of their parental power over us. It can be neutralized as we recognize its subversive influence.
The world can no longer survive the continuing rule of authoritarians and elites. In whatever way we acquire more power, we will realize, as Molly wished, that we are indeed "the deciders."