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vax1/4:.\\ Alan Pogue BOOKS & THE CULTURE Romantic Lone-Star Populism Ivins’ New Collection Considers the Clinton Era BY KAREN OLSSON YOU GOT TO DANCE WITH THEM WHAT BRUNG YOU: Politics in the Clinton Years. By Molly Ivins. Random House. 245 pages. $23.00. 1 n the summer of 1970, a 25-yearold, six-foot-tall, redheaded journalist loaded her two cats and her rubber plant into her Mercury and drove from Minnesota to Texas, to become co-editor of the Texas Observer. Though she’d grown up in Houston, Molly Ivins had gone east school at Columbia, then to Minneapolis where she won a slew of awards as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. Nonetheless Texas was home, as she informed readers of the August 21 issue: “I can’t help it. I love the state of Texas. It’s a harmless perversion.” “I love the gritty, down-on-the-ground quality of Texans,” she wrote, “their love of a good yarn and the piss and vinegar of their speech…. and I like the pleasant open vulgarity of Texans.” Perhaps she was over-romanticizing the state, Ivins conceded, but so what it was good to be home. As for Texas politics, there was little for Observer writers and readers to romanticize that summer: incumbent Senator Ralph Yarborough had lost to Lloyd Bentsen in the previous spring’s Democratic primary; U.T. Board of Regents Chairman Frank Erwin was doing his best to suppress campus protests and edge out respected scholars; “everyone in the state left of Grover Cleveland,” wrote Ivins, “appears to be in normal disarray.” “But I must confess,” she continued, “that I rather relish the political situation here, if only because there is no shortage of proper villains in Texas. The battles are so lifeless elsewhere, ever fought on tedious shades of gray. Down here the baddies wear black hats and one can loathe them with a cheerful conscience.” Thus Molly Ivins announced herself to this magazine, which she would co-edit, along with Kaye Northcott, for almost six years. Even in her opening words, Ivins invoked the sense of humor and the love of politics-as-carnival \(Texas politics in particular, a carnival in which the barker has a hangover and the freaks have run That introductory Observer piece contained a bit of contradiction: in the eyes of its writer, Texas is home but real Texans are “them”: yarn-spinners who didn’t go east to school. And though a reader glancing at Ivins’ latest collection of columns, You Got To Dance With Them What B rung You, would likely notice the Texanisms her prose is sprinkled with words like “whomperj awed” and “fantods” and “’em”it is the arch deployment of high English that stands out in the early Observer piece. \(Said Virginia to Vita, I must confess that I rather relish the political sitThe high English is still there in her recent book, along with the Texanisms. Throughout her career as a reporter and columnist for various publications, Ivins has shown herself to be not just a journalist who knows how to drawl but a populist stylist, fashioning a vernacular that blends the high, the low, and the LoneStaresque, preaching and irony, Shakespeare and sumbitches. One of the bad things about being a journalist is that some piece you knocked off years and years ago, minutes before deadline, can be dug up and subjected to scrutiny so it may be un THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19 MARCH 13, 1998