This may seem like an obvious question, but how did you arrive at the president as a subject for the books you co-wrote with Lou Dubose, Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush and your new one, Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America?

I have this vague claim to having known him since high school. Being an expert on George W. Bush is like Edmund Hillary and Everest: It was there. What could I do?

You knew him in high school?

I went to St. John’s, in Houston. At the same time, he went to Kinkaid, another prep school in Houston, for a year before going east. He hung out with friends of mine and dated some girls I knew. I knew him to say hi.

Does he remember knowing you back then?

I have no idea. We’ve always acted like we knew each other. When he was governor, we used to josh each other: “Hey, Molly, why do you give me such a hard time?” “Oh, you can take it.” We’d nudge each other in the ribs—that kind of stuff. He was always agreeable. You have to work at it to dislike him.

It would surprise people to hear you talk so kindly about him.

What I’ve said six thousand times is, I don’t think he’s stupid or mean. I get annoyed when someone dismisses something I’ve written about him by saying, “Oh, that’s Molly Ivins—she hates Bush.” When I spoke at the rally at the Capitol against the war in Iraq, I held a sign that read “Another Saddam-Hater for Inspections.” Some radio reporter from San Antonio covering the rally described me as “Molly Ivins, self-identified Bush hater.” I resented the assumption. It really is possible to disagree with someone’s policies without hating them. Grown-ups can do that.

What do you make of those other people who disagree with his policies, the Democrats running for president in 2004?

I’m actually fairly chipper about them. Several are coming along nicely. Howard Dean is really interesting. I was just up in Vermont, and everyone I talked to swore up and down that he’s no liberal. I laughed and said everything’s relative. John Kerry I initially wrote off as a minus-zero on the Elvis scale—you know, he’s a worthy fellow, solid and thoughtful, but oh, please, don’t make me try and sell this one. But now he rides his motorbike without a helmet where it’s legal. He’s working on his Elvis. John Edwards, I thought, was too pretty and too light. But he’s the one most consistently sounding the populist themes I like. His daddy worked in textile mills for 36 years, and he hasn’t forgotten about it. Joe Lieberman is the one who does absolutely nothing for me. He’s so whiny.

I can’t let you go without asking about Schwarzenegger.

He looks like a condom stuffed with walnuts. It’s so hard to take him seriously.

Thank God for California.

Thank God for California. All politics is a zoo, but we’re not as bad as they are.