As Texas Goes... How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda, by Gail Collins, Liveright, 256 pages, $27.95.
How about those Texans, ladies and gentlemen? Can you say "A little bit tacky and a little bit wacky"? The state that gave us Lyndon Johnson, Ann Richards, and…Rick Perry? Cowboy boots, anyone? That place has gotta be nutty as a long-tailed armadillo in a room full of Tea Partiers. All I can say is J.R. Ewing was a pussycat compared to Sen. Phil Gramm (ret.). And don't get me started on Reps. Tom DeLay (ret.) and Dick Armey (ret.). Those guys alone could make the Lone Star State the biggest carbon emitter in the nation! And will those Texans ever stop talking about Texas this and Texas that? I mean, hello, people: The Alamo's over. Newsflash: The Mexicans won!
New York Times columnist Gail Collins has graced our shelves with As Texas Goes…, a lighthearted jeremiad catalogued under "Political Science" by W.W. Norton & Company's Liveright Publishing Corp. At just under 200 pages of text, the book aims to describe the hog-stomping zaniness of Texas from the perspective of a self-amused Northeast Corridor tenderfoot.
That's a reasonable goal, if superfluous in an age when New York–Dallas flights start at $353. And I did learn something from this book. It just wasn't about Texas. It was about Gail Collins. Though her name rang an old-timey New York media bell, I had been laboring under the impression that Collins occupied the Anthony Lewis/Bob Herbert spot in the Grey Lady's columnist lineup: the dull, earnest grappler with injustice whose columns are valued because nobody enjoys them. But Collins, it turns out, is supposed to be a laffmaker.
Whether anybody enjoys Collins' japery is another question. Many of her jokes are of the so-crazy-ya-gotta-love-it variety, as when Collins describes her budding "fascination" with Texas:
Then a friend sent me a headline from a Texas news report: "Man Allegedly Beat Woman with Frozen Armadillo." I was totally hooked.
Many more jokes are elbow-to-ribs phrases laid in at the end of sentences or paragraphs:
The governor's certainty that the rest of us are mooning around wishing we could have secession discussions is sort of touching, in a terrifying kind of way...
And that's the traditional Texas spirit, at its best when there's an enemy to rise up against. Outsized and brave. And frequently somewhat lunatic.
And sometimes there's a mildly amusing found fact—should you opt to trust Collins' facts. (Not recommended.)
Another [sex ed] curriculum has the poor teacher construct an 18-foot-long model known as "Speedy the Sperm" to demonstrate condoms' alleged failure to guard against STDs.
But while Collins hands down jokes like a newspaper-age Pope Hilarius, she wants to be another serious grappler with injustice, to show us the grim ways in which the Texas model is shaping the nation's political culture, threatening to turn the United States into a "two-tiered economy in which the failing underclass looks resentfully at the happy sliver on the top." In the book's epilogue Collins laments, "We feel Texas' influence in our lives every day, but we'll be feeling it much more in the future, due to its enormous population growth…"
Collins attributes that population growth to a lack of public school sex education and a shortage of state family planning funds. Like most of her conclusions, this is directly contradicted by known facts. Interstate migration numbers [pdf] from the U.S. Census Bureau show that Texas enjoys some of the highest inflows of residents in the country, the largest share of that foot traffic coming at the expense of California, the Lone Star State's only near analogue in terms of size, population, demographics, resources, and economic mix.
Collins prefers to keep California locked away from public view, but like Leatherface, Texas' deformed sibling keeps breaking out. Here's a passage that seems to compare the two states but really doesn't: