- If you pick up Gail Collins’s new book hoping for a Seamus the Dog reference, you might be disappointed.
The author and New York Times columnist is best known of late for her running gag of inserting a reference to Seamus into each of her columns, but Collins has long had other interests.
Her latest work is As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda. With a title like that, you can understand that there would be precious little space to devote to the time Mitt Romney drove 650 miles to his vacation home in Ontario with the family’s Irish Setter strapped to the roof of the car.
But, like I said, this book is not about Seamus the Dog.
What it is about is how Texas has used its sheer size and strong political forces to drive the national agenda. If you don’t believe that this is the case, I leave you with this tidbit: in 1988, addressing climate change was part of the Republican platform. Now, through the hard work of (Texan) Tom DeLay, “the political debate about global warming, when it comes up at all, is usually about whether or not it exists.”
As Collins points out:
We feel Texas’s influence in our lives every day, but we’ll be feeling it much more in the future, due to its enormous population growth, helped along by those interesting sex education classes and the almost complete lack of state family planning funds.
I think it’s safe to say that most Texans will not love what Collins has to say about their state, but it’s not necessarily because of a left-right divide.
Instead, Collins notes, what is perceived as a conservative/liberal battle is really a “great, historic American division between the people who live in crowded places and the people who live in empty places.” Texas – even though it has densely populated urban areas – exemplifies the empty place ethos.
In an “empty” place, government looks different than it does to those who live on the coasts – or even in the Midwest.
From the Texas standpoint, Collins asks,
What’s the point [of government]? It’s just going to tax you or get in your way. If a robber breaks into your house, it could take hours for law enforcement to arrive; carrying a gun is more practical. Government can’t help you and it has no business telling you what you can do with your property. Who could you hurt? There’s nobody else in sight. You’re on your own and you like it that way.
Collins – who views Texas from the political left and from a “crowded place” – asserts that the “empty place” ethos is untenable for the rest of the country, where we live close enough to each other that some regulation is in order.
As Texas Goes… ends with a rather grim prognosis: “if Texas goes south, it’s taking us along.”
An uplifting note does follow. “Texas on the Brink,” a report produced by the Legislative Study Group in the Texas House of Representatives, appears in the book’s Appendix, and for all the grim statistics it offers (Texas is dead last in the percent of the population with a high school diploma, percent of uninsured people, amount of pollution released into the air and water, etc.), it also offers a bit of hope: “Texas is on the brink, but Texas can do better. The choice is ours.”
Ultimately, that means the choice is ours, too, but, first, we have to choose not to follow Texas into the future. Is this a choice we will make?
Collins thinks not. However, if you’re going to read a book by a writer who thinks the nation is facing disaster, you might as well read one as funny as this. Collins is witty and darkly comic in a time when the national political scene could use a good dose of levity.
You wouldn’t think that a book that ends with sixty pages of notes, an appendix, and a bibliography would be concise and immensely readable, but there’s a reason that Collins has a loyal following at The New York Times.
So readers who just want to see snark about Seamus may be out of luck, but readers who pick up As Texas Goes… for a dose of Collins’ signature incisive commentary will not be disappointed.
More tales from Texas:
- Gail Collins on Texas and Politics
- Ted Cruz Demonstrates Texans Will Elect Anyone, No Matter How Stupid, If He’s A Republican
- Texas Rep. Proposes Cutting Funding From School Districts Offering Domestic Partner Benefits