Gail Collins, formerly the Editorial Page Editor for the New York Times, is currently a nationally syndicated columnist for the Times.
Collins has never lived in Texas but she became fascinated with Texas after watching Gov. Rick Perry lead a Tea Party rally against the stimulus package during which Perry seemed to imply that seceding from the Union was not out of the realm of possibility for Texas.
What was going on in this, the second largest state in the Union, she wondered?
Her research led her to explore the history of the Lone Star state and the cast of interesting characters whose impact on Texas and the rest of the country has been bigger than the state itself. The result is this very funny and intelligent look at the phenomenon that is Texas.
While Collins has received criticism regarding the accuracy of some of her statements, she has included extensive endnotes and bibliography in support of her writing. Of particular interest is the Appendix, the 2011 version of “Texas on the Brink: A Report from the Texas Legislative Study on the State of Our State,” which is published every two years by the Texas House of Representatives. More on that later.
Collins’ research has led her to the conclusion that Texas has “set the country’s course on everything from energy to education, and [created] the terms of our public debate on everything from jobs to prayers before football games” and its legends have entered the lexicon of the entire country. Remember the Alamo?
To understand the role Texas plays on our national stage, says Collins, one must understand what she calls the “empty-place ethos.” People who live in wide open spaces, she says, have a different view of things from that of people who live in urban areas, and Texas has lots of wide open spaces. In spite of the fact that most Texans seem to identify with “the big empty” it also has a lot of really crowded cities and 80% of its population lives in one of them.
Financial deregulation, No Child Left Behind, school vouchers, conservative textbook content, abstinence-only sex education, anti-environmentalism — Collins traces these and other policies through Texas roots and into their national flowering. She also takes on and effectively deconstructs the so-called “Texas Miracle” — a seemingly booming economy with an expanding job market in a recession that has crippled the rest of the country.
Back to the “Texas on the Brink” report. Texas ranked 43rd in high school graduations, had the highest percentage of uninsured children in the country, ranked fourth highest in the percentage of people living below the federal poverty level, ranked first in the amount of toxic chemicals released into the water and in the amount of hazardous waste generated. . . and so on.