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As Texas Goes - Prologue

As Texas Goes - Prologue

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Published by scprweb
"We've seen the future, and it's Texas," writes New York Times columnist Gail Collins in her latest book, “As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda.” Collins looks at the political influence the state has had on American politics, Enron, No Child Left Behind, the S&L crisis and textbooks that question evolution. Madeleine talks with her about the book, and her fascination with the state’s outsized influence.
"We've seen the future, and it's Texas," writes New York Times columnist Gail Collins in her latest book, “As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda.” Collins looks at the political influence the state has had on American politics, Enron, No Child Left Behind, the S&L crisis and textbooks that question evolution. Madeleine talks with her about the book, and her fascination with the state’s outsized influence.

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Published by: scprweb on Jul 03, 2012
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Prologue
My fascination with Texas began rather suddenly. It was the spring of 2009—you willremember, that was the season when the political right was failing to adjust to the idea of aPresident Obama. And there was Governor Rick Perry at a Tea Party rally in Austin, publicly toying with the idea that his state might consider seceding.It was quite a moment. Perry was standing behind a podium with a “Don’t Mess WithTexas” banner, wearing jeans, his trademark boots, and looking pretty damned ticked off.“Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may,” hesaid, quoting the state’s great founding father, Sam Houston. When Houston made thatremark, he was definitely attempting to break away from the country to which Texas wasthen attached.“We didn’t like oppression then, we don’t like oppression now!” Perry roared to thecheering crowd, some of whom were waving “Secede!” signs. It did sure sound like anAlamo kind of crisis. Their backs were to the wall!And, important point: this was just a rally about the stimulus package.It was perhaps the first time the rest of the country had taken notice of the fact thattwenty-first-century Texans did not necessarily consider the idea of breaking away to become a separate nation as, um, nuts. We non-Texans were somewhat taken aback. Howlong had this been going on? Was it something we said?“We’ve got a great union,” Perry assured reporters after the rally ended. “There’sabsolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their noses at theAmerican people, you know, who knows what might come of that?”Does this sound like a serious commitment to you? Try to imagine a husband telling hiswife that he saw absolutely no reason to get a divorce—but if she continued to fail to liveup to expectations, who knows what might come of that?You had to pay attention. Not necessarily to Perry himself, who of course went on to become one of the worst candidates for president in all of American history. But the rally,with its combination of egomania (We’re the best!) and paranoia (Don’t mess with Texas!),was a near-perfect reflection of the Tea Party’s war cry in national politics.That’s not an accident. The more I looked at Texas, which seemed to be having an anti-Obama rally every time a cow mooed, the more important it seemed. Without anyone muchnoting it, Texas had taken a starring role in the twenty-first-century national politicaldiscussion. For one thing, it had the hottest economy—which the rest of us were told we’d
 
 better emulate unless we wanted all the local employers to pack up and move to Plano. Thereason Perry imagined he could be president was the way Texas had created job growth byhewing to the low-tax-low-regulation ethic that the political right believes should be themodel for the entire country. (The model had certain flaws, such as the assumption thatevery state could scrimp on higher education and just build a large professional class byimporting people who went to college in other states. We’ll get to that later.)Then a friend sent me a headline from a Texas news report: “Man Allegedly BeatWoman with Frozen Armadillo.” I was totally hooked.So I started thinking a lot about Texas. Looking back over the last quarter century or so,I was stunned by how much of the national agenda it had produced, for good or ill.Texas banking laws set the stage for the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s. The 2008economic meltdown was the product of a financial deregulation that was the work of manyhands, but most particularly the paws of Texas senator Phil Gramm. Our energy policy isthe way it is in large part because Texas politicians and Texas special interests like it thatway. (If the polar ice caps melt, it’s not going to be Utah’s fault.) Schools from Portland,Oregon, to Portland, Maine, have been remade, reorganized, and sometimes totallyupended under a federal law based on Texas education reform. For several generations, our kids have been reading textbooks written with an eye to Texas sensibilities. Texas presidents have led the country into every land war the United States has been involved insince Vietnam.Texas
runs everything 
.
 
Why, then, is it so cranky? Is it because of its long string of well-funded but terrible presidential contenders? True, being the home state of Rick Perry, the“oops” candidate, had to be embarrassing. On the other hand, thanks to the Bushes, there’s been a Texan president or vice president for twenty of the last thirty-two years, so the lack of White House access hardly seems like an appropriate subject for sulking. Is it theweather? The state of Washington has terrible weather, and you don’t see people therethreatening to secede.The crankiness is actually a source of Texas’s political power. The state has aremarkable ability to be two contradictory things at once. As we’ll see later, it’s a fast-growing, increasingly urban place whose citizens have nevertheless managed to maintainthe conviction that they’re living in the wide open spaces. And its politicians are skilled at bragging about the wonderful Texas economy and lifestyle while wailing and rending their garments over their helplessness in the hands of the federal Death Star in Washington. Youneed that sense of victimhood because it creates energy and unity. You can’t build a TeaParty on good news.Another reason the Texas influence on the US is outsized is that the place is just sodamned big. The country has other hugely influential large states, like California and NewYork, but they’re not on an upswing. California has more people, but it’s hit a bad patchand it’s struggling. New York is the media capital and it has Wall Street, but its populationis flat. Texas just keeps growing, by leaps and bounds. (Think jackrabbit. It’s a good
 
metaphor. A really, really large jackrabbit.)The huge Texas population—up 4.3 million in a decade—has an enormous impact onthe country all by itself. We’ve got a super-big state with a young citizenry and a very high birth rate. You have to figure that by 2050, the entire United States will have a distinctlyTexas cast. The state’s ability to rear, educate, and prepare all the little Texans to take their  place in the national economy is going to be an excellent predictor of how well the wholecountry will be faring down the line.We will get into that later, but—spoiler alert—the odds of success would be better if Texas had more control of the teenage birth rate. Did I ever tell you about the time Rick Perry defended abstinence-only sex education by saying that he knew from his own personal experience that abstinence worked? No? Well, I will. Soon.We’re not used to thinking of Texas as a driving force in American affairs, but there youare. Even when Democrats held the White House in recent decades, Texans seemed to beholding the reins—reins that were being used mainly to hog-tie the chief executive. BillClinton had to deal with two Texans—House majority leader Dick Armey and whip TomDeLay—whose lasting contribution to American history was mainly the thwarting of theClinton agenda, particularly health care reform. Barack Obama has been hamstrung by the power of the Tea Party Republicans, whose first big coming-out parties were organized byArmey and whose ideology sprang, as much as from any place coherent, from the thinkingof Texas congressman Ron Paul.In this book, I want to try to show you how Texas has driven the national agenda, andthen what it means to have Texas as the Republican model for the entire Americaneconomy. But first, in the next few chapters I want to introduce you to Texas and its political history which, no matter how you slice it, is pretty amazing.You’d imagine a place with a motto like “Don’t Mess with Texas” would be a small,scrappy state. But Texas is a
huge
, scrappy state. What could be more unnerving? Andreally, there’s never a dull moment. Take the frozen armadillo situation. I couldn’t resistlooking into it, and at one point in my research I ran into an officer of wildlife enforcementwho assured me that it was illegal to sell a live armadillo in Texas. “Dead armadillos youcan sell parts of them,” he added. “Make a curio of a little armadillo on his back drinking a bottle of beer.”How could you not want to know more about a state like that, particularly when itappears to have been setting the entire national agenda for decades, while continuallyhowling about how the federal government is pushing it around?And the people are great. I can attest that I had a wonderful time with everyone I metwhile I was wandering around, trying to figure out how Texas inspired a national educationlaw which the politicians in Texas now denounce on an almost hourly basis, or why a statethat would get more economic benefit than anybody from the health care reform law is sodetermined to repeal the health care reform law.Anyhow, that’s how I became obsessed with Texas. To paraphrase the old saw about

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