Erica Greider reviewed on Tuesday the recent conservative-bashing book by New York Times columnist and former editorial page editor Gail Collins, As Texas Goes – How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda. Greider covers the region for the Economist and knows something about Texas history, which puts Collins at a disadvantage. Greider wrote:
...Her book, 'As Texas Goes... ,' pays particular attention to the state’s staggering inequality, casual embrace of crony capitalism and creaky educational pipeline. These are problems for Texas, of course, but Ms. Collins’s concern is that Texas itself is everyone’s problem. “Personally, I prefer to think that all Americans are in the same boat,” she says. “And Texas has a lot to do with where we’re heading.”
Greider politely corrected some of Collins' factual errors: "....the problem with this book is one that has dogged other outsiders’ accounts: stereotypes about Texas are so strong that they may trump the record."
She gave an example:
On the first page Ms. Collins quotes Mr. Perry quoting another governor, Sam Houston, at a 2009 Tea Party rally in Austin: “Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may.” This was the moment, she says, when she became fascinated with Texas. “When Houston made that remark,” she writes, “he was definitely attempting to break away from the country to which Texas was then attached.”
He definitely was not. Houston -- who had also been the hero of the Battle of San Jacinto and president of the Republic of Texas -- was a leading advocate for the state’s annexation during the nine years that the ramshackle republic was repeatedly rebuffed by Washington. After the annexation was finally muscled through a bitterly divided Congress, Houston became the only Southern governor to oppose secession and left the office rather than serving in the Confederacy, as Ms. Collins notes.
Houston was complaining that Texas’s interests were getting short shrift in the wake of the Mexican-American War. His point wasn’t that Texas might leave the United States because its rights were under attack. His point was that Texas had rights because it was part of the United States.
As Ms. Collins says, Texas has one of the highest teenage birthrates in the country, and three of the four state-approved health textbooks never mention the word “condom.” It’s possible, however, that Texas teenagers are nonetheless aware of what condoms are. According to 2009 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42 percent of sexually active teenagers in Texas reported that they didn’t use a condom during their most recent sexual encounter. Around the enlightened nation the figure was not much better, at 39 percent. In any case, even in Texas, school districts are moving away from abstinence-only policies.
And if the larger point is to tackle the issue of teenage pregnancy, rather than tease Republicans, the Texas example does make clear that it would be worthwhile to look at demographics rather than just sex ed. The rate of teenage births in the United States, and Texas, has been declining for years, among all ethnic groups. Ms. Collins does touch on some of the state’s economic and policy barriers to reproductive health care, but the more contentious parts of the picture turn out to be a distraction.
A needlessly ominous distraction at that. It sometimes seems like Ms. Collins is more impressed with Texas than Texas itself is, which is saying something. Yes, Texas is an important state, and worth keeping an eye on, even for people outside its sprawling borders. But in opting for the easy jokes, Ms. Collins misses the chance for a more substantive critique.
Besides the errors and slant noted by Greider, Collins' book reveals her hostility toward conservatives in general and Texas conservatives in particular.
On page 50, Collins bashed Texas for "terrible" voting turnout while predicting it would get worse "thanks to a new voter identification law that is pretty clearly designed to discourage poor people from going to the polls."
She also identified then Gov. George W. Bush as "extremely conservative," which would come as a surprise to make Republicans, and blamed Texas Sen. Phil Gramm for pretty much everything that's gone wrong in the world economy since 2008.
According to Collins, Republicans turned the House of Representatives into a "partisan battlefield" in the 1980s, a statement that ignores how Democrats had treated the chamber as their personal fiefdom, perhaps culminating in the highly dubious Democratic-led recount of the 1984 election in Indiana's 8th Congressional District, overturning the result and declaring Democrat Rep. Frank McCloskey the winner over Republican challenger Rick McIntyre.
Tom DeLay, the former Texas congressman power broker, was treated with predictable contempt by Collins, with many snide references to his former job as an exterminator, a pedestrian detail that holds peculiar fascination for liberals ("as bloodthirsty in partisan House politics as he was in Sugar Land extermination projects").