The American political system is corrupt, and it is up to the citizens to correct it, award-winning columnist Molly Ivins said Monday night.
“It is our problem, not them in Washington, to fix what is wrong,” Ivins said.
Ivins spoke to an audience in a crowded Cowles Auditorium at Hubert H. Humphrey Center. She was the guest lecturer at the 20th annual Frank Premack Memorial Lecture and Awards Program, sponsored by the University’s Minnesota Journalism Center.
Her speech, “A Political Reporter’s Dream: Newt, Trent and William Jefferson Clinton,” focused on what Ivins calls “a spirit of meanness” that exists in modern politics and in the media coverage.
“Where does the meanness of public discourse come from?” Ivins asked a room of students, faculty, journalists and fans. In trying to answer that question, she noted that cynicism comes easily to people, in part, because commentators such as Rush Limbaugh have “perverted the notion of political satire.”
Both Limbaugh and Ivins spend their day criticizing public officials, but Ivins does not see the humor in Limbaugh’s forum.
“Satire is the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. But when you make fun of people who are crippled, helpless, homeless, dead, little girls — it seems to me that you have mistaken the purpose of satire.”
Ivins gave an example: Limbaugh announced on his program that there was a new dog in the Clinton White House. He held up a picture of Chelsea Clinton. She was 13 years old at the time.
Described in her introduction as unapologetically liberal, Ivins writes a nationally syndicated column three times a week in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She deals with such topics as welfare reform, Texas politics and public affairs in the United States.
In her speech, she shared her observation that politics has been tarnished with money. “It is a government of organized corporate special interests, by organized corporate special interests, and for organized corporate special interests, and that will continue this way until we change the way campaigns are financed.”
Ivins contends that nothing will happen to correct the political system until American citizens do something. “We’ve lost the sense that we can run the damn thing,” Ivins said.
The program also honored the work of journalists. The Rochester Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Minn., the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Timberjay of Tower, Minn., received awards for public affairs reporting.
Gerry Nelson, a former Associated Press reporter and policy adviser to former governor Rudy Perpich, received the Graven Award for excellence in communications work. Nelson is also a former University student.
Also honored and remembered at the program was the late Peter Vanderpoel, a former colleague of Premack.