A Twister Rips through Texas

Article excerpt

Byline: Michelle Cottle

Gail Collins on what the state has done to the rest of us.

What happens when you turn one of the nation's sharpest liberal commentators loose in one of the nation's most ferociously conservative states? Think about mixing fire and hydrogen. Yankees fans and Red Sox fans. Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell. The experiment promises to be combustible, but certainly not boring.

Just in time for beach-reading season, The New York Times's Gail Collins is out with a new book, As Texas Goes..., in which the wickedly witty political columnist looks to explain the outsize impact of the Lone Star State on its 49 brethren.

Collins conceived of the project in the wake of Gov. Rick Perry's April 2009 musings about whether Texas ought to contemplate secession in the face of an increasingly overbearing Washington. "It's so weird that Texas is so paranoid about the federal government when, if you think about it, Texas has been running the federal agenda for 30 years," she tells Newsweek.

And so Collins decided to dig in and explore the influence of the nation's second-largest state (in both population and land mass) in areas ranging from education to taxation to regulation.

Now, a non-Texan purporting to explain Texas is "always a dangerous thing," notes Evan Smith, editor of The Texas Tribune and one of Collins's chief guides through this foreign land. "There is nothing in the world Texans hate more."

Just wait until the book hits the shelves. As usual, Collins offers up a clear point of view, one that can largely be boiled down to: Texas is trouble with a capital T. Whether it's the state's enthusiasm for the death penalty, its love of high-stakes testing in schools, its passion for privatization, or its bare-bones approach to the social safety net, Texas is the antithesis of Collins's idea of good government. As she observes in her opening chapter: "That's the traditional Texas spirit, at its best when there's an enemy to rise up against. Outsized and brave. And frequently somewhat lunatic."

Collins acknowledges that she isn't really writing for Texans, but for folks in far-flung places whose lives are being impacted in ways they likely don't realize. Many of her readers will, of course, be among the top echelons of the Beltway crowd. …