As Texas Goes…: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda

Book cover: As Texas Goes by Gail CollinsAs 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.

IndieBound | Powell’s | Amazon
I read it as a(n): Hardcover
Source: Library
Pages: 288

Advertisements

5 comments

  1. mdbrady

    Great review!!! As a fellow, liberal, etc. Texan who keeps up, I couldn’t agree more. I just don’t know if I would enjoy or be depressed by reading this book. You at least help me laugh about the situation–until I remember that Perry is trying to take another 10% out of academic budgets, including the library that my husband directs–which is sure to make him more over-worked and cranky. Thanks for helping Collins let the rest of the world know what we live with down here.

  2. jenn aka the picky girl

    Another liberal outside of Austin here. Way outside, in fact. And I have a group (albeit small) of friends who are liberals as well. Of course, many of us are educators. I think I would probably get ridiculously ticked off at the generalizations. I am a proud Texan. I’ve lived in Texas my entire life, but I don’t exactly feel as some do about it. I’m plenty aware of our hilariously awful politics and agendas, and I don’t even want to tell you what my FB feed was like when Perry talked secession. (NOTE: I went through and deleted many based on those weeks alone.)

    We love to hate Texas, don’t we? 🙂

  3. Jessica

    Another proud Texas liberal who doesn’t live in Austin. I love Gail Collins – “When Everything Changed” was awesome – but I’ll probably pass on this book. I feel like only Molly Ivins can pick on my state.

  4. Melissa

    @mdbrady: It is really depressing. the school where I work had major cuts this past year, and it’s supposed to be even worse in 2012-2013. Grr!

    @Jenn: I also get mad at generalizations. Unless they’re coming from fellow Texans, in which case…fire away! 😉 But I love Texas, even when I hate it. lol

    @Jessica: I know!! I kept thinking about Molly as I was reading the book. Oh how she would’ve loved ripping apart Governor Goodhair this election season…

  5. cindylu

    I took a Latinos and the Law class a few years ago about legal cases particular affecting Latinos’ civil rights. I admit, I’m a bit biased about how California plays a role in expanding/limiting civil rights for Latinos, so I was pretty surprised how many of the most important Supreme Court cases came out of Texas (Santa Antonio ISD v Rodriguez, Plyler v Doe, Hernandez v Texas). And yes, never met anyone born and raised in Texas who did not love it, and most of those people are very liberal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s