Photo by: Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle; Molly Ivins (who once remarked about President Bush the First: "His problem is that he was born with a silver foot in his mouth") has been making fun of George W. since the two were in high school.

The economy''s heading down the toilet. New corporate scandals erupt daily. The White House continues careening towards war. And George W. Bush''s still the president. It seems like the worst of times for a progressive political pundit. And yet Molly Ivins can find something to laugh about.

"Being a liberal in Texas will give you just an infinite reservoir of good cheer," Ivins said last week in a telephone interview from her Austin home. Besides the good cheer, being a liberal Texas native gives Ivins, who writes a widely syndicated column for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a unique perspective on Dubya. In 2000, she co-authored the best-selling Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush. She''s a former editor and regular contributor to the Texas Observer, an independent Austin weekly.

Ivins'' pointed satire has been likened to that of Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce. Whether writing about corporate corruption or American military strategy, she can be laugh-so-hard-coffee- shoots-out-your-nose funny.

While her roots are pure Texas, Ivins spent the first few months of her life in Monterey. She was born here in 1944, where her father served as an officer in the Pacific at the end of World War II. Upon his discharge, the family moved back to Houston, where Molly was raised.

"I had to laugh," she says, "I was on CSPAN a couple months back and some angry caller said ''Molly Ivins pretends to be a Texan, but she''s really from California and there''s where she got all her radical ideas.'' It reminded me of those old Southern obituaries you read [turn up Texas twang here] ''Mrs. Smith had lived in Mobile for 98 years, but she is a native of Birmingham.''"

Ivins returns to Monterey on Oct. 10, as the keynote speaker for the California Women Lawyers'' 28th Annual at the Doubletree Hotel. She spoke with the Weekly about Washington, Iraq and Shrub.

The Weekly: How''s George W. Bush handling the Iraq debate?

Molly Ivins: It seems to me he''s handled it in a really unhelpful way. He started essentially by saying he didn''t need anybody''s permission and he didn''t care what anybody else thought. The other part that''s troubling-I''m one of the people who thinks we should finish the fight with Al Qaeda before we wade into anything else. There is a very real probability that that a fight with Iraq would actually increase terrorism.

CW: How so?

MI: One thing that terrorism feeds on is the perception of American arrogance. Not only do you have to go gun down the members of Al Qaeda, but also you need to drain the swamp that creates terrorism. That really is done working with the international community. We need to demonstrate that we''re willing to work with others and we are trying to do good things.

CW: Are you disappointed in congressional Democrats?

MI: Oh, Absolutely. As I travel around the country lately, the single most asked question is, ''where the hell are the Democrats?''

CW: Is it too late? Is a full-blown war inevitable?

MI: If Bush has decided it is inevitable-which it very well appears from every indication-if [the administration] doesn''t even make the effort to see if there is a peaceful solution to this, then they are going to look really terrible.

CW: So we take out Saddam-what then?

MI: I must say the president of Afghanistan is not encouraging as we watch that society fall back into warlording. Given the situation in Iraq, unless we keep a substantial presence there after we win the war, there will be tremendous bloodshed.

CW: Is the administration using the war as a diversion tactic, steering public attention away from domestic problems?

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MI: In Texas, we have a verb for it, we call is being Rouged, with a capital R. I hate to think that they [the Bush administration] are that cynical. I know people on the left would say I''m naïve about that. But [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz has been pushing this for a long time. After September 11, it looked like a good chance.

CW: But inevitably, crisis with Iraq shifts the focus away from the economy.

MI: Sure, the economy is going right back into the toilet. You know, the things that are being missed as a result of the focus on Iraq are really extraordinary: corporate scandal and the reform of Corporate America.

CW: You''ve known George W. Bush since high school. What was he like back then?

MI: I have known him since we were both in high school, but we didn''t go to the same school. He''s very affable. You have to really work at it to dislike George W. He is neither mean nor stupid. On the other hand, in those days I thought he was shallow, spoiled and of mediocre intelligence. And I have had no reason to change my mind on that.

He is unusually blinkered by class, I think, and also blinkered by a resentment [because] he assumes people think they are smarter than he is.

Molly

Ivins speaks Saturday at 8pm at the Doubletree Hotel, 2 Portola Plaza, Monterey $25. Call (916) 646-3114.

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