As a Texan, I had the misfortune of being governed by Dumb and Dumber way before they decided to take their circus to the (inter)national level. And as an educator and a feminist, I’ve always tried to stay informed and keep up with the shenanigans going on in my state. Naturally, when I saw that Gail Collins had penned a new book about Texas’s impact at the national level, I had to get a hold of it.
In light of Governor Perry’s recent unsuccessful presidential bid, Collins was startled when she noticed the impact that Texas has had on the United States over the last few decades. It began with the first President Bush, exploded with eight years of Dubya, and more recently reared it’s ugly (albeit well-coiffed) head with all the nonsense that came out of Rick Perry’s mouth during the embarrassment that was his presidential campaign (i.e., threatening secession). Because of its size, population, and well-funded right-wing politicians — not to mention the fact that Texans have held many high-level federal offices over the past couple of decades (a fact I wish Collins had given more weight to) — Collins asserts that Texas has the power to disproportionately affect the national agenda on everything from environmental laws to the things taught in public schools.
Collins begins with a crash course on Texas history — particularly the battle of the Alamo — which she sees as the heart of the Texas mythos. Depending on which side of history you’re on, the Alamo is either the site where a small group of heroes bravely died during their last stand against the villainous Mexicans *or* the site where a small group of drunkards and outcasts died needlessly after being repeatedly warned to get their illegal immigrant butts out of Mexican territory. Nothing regarding Texas’s future was actually decided at the Alamo — that pivotal battle came later — but the Alamo is what gets all the glory in Texas history books. I had to laugh at how Collins describes Texans’ love affair with the Alamo. (She’s not exaggerating, either: I went on field trips to the Alamo on more than one occasion in middle school and high school, which wouldn’t be remarkable if not for the fact that I live a four hour drive from San Antonio!) Anyway, that oversized “Texas Is #1!” mentality still lives on today, and Texas politicians proclaim it with everything they’ve got. I don’t know if I’d attribute it to our collective determination to Remember the Alamo, but Texans — even liberal ones — definitely tend to love Texas.
Jumping off that point, Collins incisively dissects the ways that Texas has influenced the national agenda. From financial deregulation, to education, to sex education and women’s rights, to the environment, she presents countless examples of federal policies that have roots in Texas policies. The most glaringly obvious examples pertain to education: No Child Left Behind began in Texas (don’t even get me started on the standardized testing hell my siblings and I went through), and I’m still mortified by the textbook controversy from a couple of years ago. By the time she gets to sex ed and reproductive rights, I just want to curl up and hide. Forever. None of the things she mentions are news to Texans who have been paying attention the news, but I’m sure the rest of the nation will enjoy (in a horrified, train wreck kind of way) learning all about how far gone Texas is at times.
That said, were a few instances where I thought Collins’s arguments were too anecdotal, or too tenuous when it came to tying the state agenda to the national agenda. I also wish Collins had held back on some of the blanket generalizations about Texans. Not all of us are religious or conservative, and progressive Texans do exist outside of Austin (hel-lo, you’re currently reading the musings of a liberal, feminist, atheist, vegetarian, born-and-raised south Texan). This may be a red state, and you can definitely find your share of stereotypical Texans, but there are also a lot of people who vehemently oppose what is going on in this state.
Those problems aside, As Texas Goes… offers readers engaging commentary. There’s a lengthy 2011 report in the appendix that presents pages upon pages of state rankings and statistics: we’re dead last when it comes to the percentage of people over 25 with a high school diploma, and we have the highest percentage of uninsured children and adults in the nation. We come in last when it comes to the percentage of pregnant women who receive prenatal care, and we have the dirtiest air. Collins smoothly manages to work a lot of these findings into the book. Even if you don’t wholly buy her arguments linking Texas’s influence at the federal level, there’s no denying the numerous problems that Collins uncovers at the state level. For that alone, it’s a must-read.
As Texas Goes…: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda was released on June 4, 2012 by Liveright, an imprint of W. W. Norton.