on June 22, 2012
Well, I lived in Texas for 19 of the most miserable of my 66 years. Native Yankees who are not Christian, not sorority sisters, and who are feminists do not transfer well to these open spaces. And, unlike some of the folks posting here, I DID read the book. Everything that Collins describes about Texas in this book is oh so true. For those who slam her and want "facts" -- well they are legion in this book. In fact there is a well referenced notes section and a bibliography (that contains both material from the left and right positions of our political spectrum. There is also an appendix that ranks Texas on multiple indicators. This index is not a leftist document. It is compiled yearly IN TEXAS. Such gems include (50th = lowest, 1st = highest) 2nd in birth rate, 1st in CO2 emissions, 1st in toxic chemicals released into water, 43rd in high school graduation rate, 1st in uninsured children, 4th in children living in poverty, 50th (dead last) in per capita spending on mental health care, 50th in Workers Compensation Coverage. This is just a small sampling. I could go on. But get the book and be as appalled and distressed as I was.
Collins thesis is that Texas has a disproportionate amount of influence over the national agenda. In some of the chapters, she is persuasive. In some she is less so. I was less than persuaded by the financial deregulation chapter. There is plenty of blame to go around on that one that is not limited to Texas and its S&L difficulties. Ditto the global warming issue and the abstinence only education. But the textbook wars are well known and it is no secret that textbook publishers are held captive by what the yahoos in Texas dictate to them. As they know well down there, money talks. I would argue that Texas does not set the agenda, rather it reflects what is going on in much of the country, and that is that southern states that are the most religiously conservative, are also social darwinists, ruthless, and least interested in education of any kind. Texas is only one of those, not unique, but perhaps the one with the biggest and most outsized ego.
Also, I have to wonder. If Texas was all THAT influential in setting the agenda for the rest of the country, then why the crash and burn of their nitwit governor who possibly ran the worst presidential campaign in history and slunk back to the Lone Star state with his tail between his legs? Perhaps my logic is flawed, but it seems to me that they would have run someone smarter, slicker, less repulsive, and gotten a lot further in the race if they were so inclined to influence the national debate.
She points out the legacy of and the ongoing presence of racism, and the dwindling of the white population. Texas will be an overwhelmingly Latino state shortly, but is still controlled by white men. White Christian men. She ponders the quetion of how long this situation will last, but really comes to no conclusions. Nor does she answer how in a state that is so overwhelmingly diverse, the white ruling class still dominates.
Collins does a great job of debunking the Texas miracle, which has happened by keeping wages of poor Latino workers as low as possible, throwing regulation of the environment down the toilet, depriving people of health care, and importing brain power from other states.
There is no surprise here. If you keep people uneducated and oppressed and you act like China with your environment, you too will prosper.
She peppers the book with the colorful cast of characters, who could exist and prosper nowhere but in Texas. These guys (and they are USUALLY guys) are amusing until you realize that they are not all that funny. They are disingenuous at best and often dangerous -- DeLay, Armey, the Bushes, the Gramms, etc. She does a great job with her themes of illusory open spaces in a sprawling urban state, and pokes a huge deflating finger in the myth of the hapless Alamo. She is right, it is underwhelming. Having lived in Midland - I agree -- there is absolutely nothing to do. No, wait. If you are a woman, you can meet with your sorority sisters from SMU (even though you are 45 years out of college). You could also go to lunch and belong to the Junior League (reference to The Help for a thorough explanation of that phenomenon). Although I was not altogether persuaded by her thesis, the book is fun and should be read by anyone who is open minded to what unfettered capitalism has wrought in a single state. I suspect that there are equally dismal places, such as Mississippi and Louisiana to name but a few, but they don't have the outsized swagger, ego and sheer chutzpah of Texas. What other state with such dismal rankings would obfuscate reality and float the propoganda of exceptionalism that Texas does? THAT is the real story in this book. Way to go Collins.