Book review: ‘As Texas Goes . . .: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda’ by Gail Collins

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(Liveright/W.W. Norton) - "As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda" by Gail Collins

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FROM: Special agent “DFW’’

Gentlemen of Texas:

The moment we have been dreading is upon us. The Collins book is out. It’s called “As Texas Goes . . .

Now, don’t panic. She doesn’t know everything. Remember, Gail Collins is your classic big-city-Yankee-liberal New York Times columnist. Intelligence sources suggest she may drive a Volvo, and we believe it is highly likely she drinks pinot grigio. She is trying to make the case that conservative Texas politicians are behind pretty much every significant change in American government and education over the past quarter-century or so.

To the uninformed, this accusation will feel like a stretch. What Collins does is line up all the wonderful accomplishments of George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Phil Gramm, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay — especially Phil’s financial deregulation and W.’s No Child Left Behind — and then try to connect the dots to argue in favor of a grand Texas conspiracy to subvert the national welfare. “Without much anyone noting it, Texas has taken a starring role in the twenty-first-century national political discussion,’’ Collins writes. “Texas runs everything.’’ (Her italics, hombres.)

While this is true — heh, heh — I don’t expect anyone will believe her. Remember, we have survived this kind of drive-by before. The first effete Yankee author to “discover’’ Texas was the novelist Edna Ferber, who produced the gaudy “Giant’’ all the way back in 1952. (James Dean in the movie? Remember?) Next came the New Yorker’s John Bainbridge, taking a more thoughtful approach in 1961 with “The Super Americans,’’ followed every few years by some new salad-eater who suddenly realized that Texans are as important as of course we actually are. What is most notable about these endeavors is the authors’ Saul Steinbergian view of America. All of them, Collins included, seem shocked to discover that our great country isn’t actually run by their luncheon friends and private-school buddies. Don’t these people get out?

Collins dates her discovery of Texas to the spring of 2009, making her the very worst kind of Bonnie-come-lately. When she goes off on the Bushes and Phil and Dick and Tom, you get the sense that it’s all somehow new to her. Our oppo teams are researching this now, but we suspect the only time this woman has ever left the Upper West Side is to visit girlfriends in Beverly Hills or South Beach or the Hamptons or, you know, France.

That said, here’s the meat of her argument:

1. Texans are exceedingly proud of themselves and their state. Damn right we are. Next.

2. The central tenet of Texas political philosophy is what Collins calls the “empty spaces’’ doctrine: People who live in vast open spaces, or at least believe they do, don’t need or want help from a government, federal or otherwise. We’d concede this point.

3. Rick Perry is only the latest in a long line of nitwits we have elected governor. We should probably duck this one.

4. Texas was a model for national financial deregulation beginning in the 1980s. Phil Gramm was behind it all. Yeah, so? Is it our fault Wall Street was too dim to follow Phil’s visionary blueprints?

5. As governor, George W. Bush introduced a zeal for mandatory testing of schoolchildren that has been copied nationwide. Collins goes on and on about this. Believe me, only wonks will understand any of it.

6. For years, textbook publishers pretty much produced only books approved by the ultraconservative Texas State Board of Education. This is old news, not so true anymore and, besides, makes us look like national leaders in education. We suggest embracing it.

7. In W.’s White House, energy conservation was played down in favor of more drilling, more pipelines and more oil. Suggested reply: “Yahoo!’’ Oh, and Collins argues that Texas politicians “led the way in the destruction of all major legislation aimed at dealing with global warming.” Nice work, boys!

8. The vaunted “Texas economic miracle” is all luck. Look, Texas is the most business-friendly state in the nation, voted so by magazine after magazine year after year. Even California sent a delegation to Austin to see how we’ve done it. Collins wants readers to believe this is all serendipitous and somehow bad for our poor folks. Something about income inequality and a lack of social services. Candidly, I don’t see the problem.

Collins actually gives up on the idea of a Texas conspiracy about halfway through the book, spending the rest of it bashing poor Rick Perry and things we are doing inside the state. She manages to get worked up over all sorts of little things, from Perry’s habit of poaching businesses from other states to the fact that many of our new jobs don’t pay much. (We’ve drafted a list of suggested replies for Perry, and yes, we reminded his secretary to write them on his palm.) No shortcoming of Perry’s is too picayune for this woman to bring up; she even complains about the state government’s lack of weather forecasters, for Pete’s sake.

The funniest bits come when Collins tries to argue that Texas schools, by scrimping on sex education and advancing the idea of abstinence, are turning out “sexually illiterate young people.’’ You have to chuckle when she quotes a Texas State professor who tells the story of a male student who asked, in all sincerity, about his risk of cervical cancer. We don’t think this argument needs rebutting. As Collins admits, we are the fastest-growing state in the nation, so the kids must be learning this stuff somewhere.

In the end, this book won’t be taken too seriously. It’s barely 200 pages long — we’ve ignored the extra pages of notes — breezily written and very funny. On the question of how Texas education improved so much in recent decades, Collins quotes the irksome Molly Ivins, who called it “the story on how our schools rocketed from abysmal to only slightly below average in a mere thirty years.’’ Ah, Molly.

Anyway, that’s all she’s got. The good news, as I mentioned, is that Collins doesn’t know everything. Our plan to replace the Statue of Liberty with one of Sam Houston remains a tightly guarded secret, as is the bill we are drafting to make gun racks mandatory for all new vehicles. She remains blissfully unaware of the long-planned effort to move the nation’s capital to Austin, nor does she even begin to grasp the impact of salsa’s displacement of ketchup as the national condiment.

My advice would be to ignore this book whenever possible. This Collins woman is on the wrong side of history and doesn’t even know it. We are unstoppable, gentlemen. Unstoppable.

Bryan Burrough , a special correspondent at Vanity Fair, is the author of “The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes” and “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34.”

AS TEXAS GOES . . .

How the Lone Star State
Hijacked the American Agenda

By Gail Collins

Liveright. 267 pp. $25.95

 
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