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July 25, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

What's the Matter With Texas?

Gail Collins is from Ohio. She did not grow up wearing a "Republic of Ohio" T-shirt or celebrating the victims of the Big Bottom Massacre. She was not taught that people from Ohio were all that special just because they were from Ohio. 

It's safe to say that most Americans share her experience - we identify as Americans, and while we may love our home state, we don't revere it.

Texas is not Ohio. 

Lone Star State children grow up believing that Texas IS special. Texans revel in their state's history ("Victory or Death!") and love to point out that Texas was a country once, too. 

Collins seems to resent this sense of exceptionalism, in much the same way many liberals resent the notion of American exceptionalism. "As Texas Goes ...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda" could have been subtitled "What Makes Them Think They're So Special?"

As Collins acknowledges, one thing that makes Texans think they're special is the success their politicians have achieved at the national level.

The Republic may have dallied with Britain and seceded from the union in the 19th century, but Texans are all in these days.

A slew of recent presidents claim Texas as their home, and a number of recent Congressional leaders, from Dick Armey to Jim Wright to Tom DeLay, have "Texas" next to their party affiliation. 

For Collins, too much influence from Texas is bad news.

She argues that the state's major politicians (these days predominantly Republican, though that is a relatively recent phenomenon) have brought the state's policy outlook to Washington, with dubious results. (Unfortunately, she doesn't consider the dubious results that President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs have had for today's debt crisis.) 

In any case, she is probably overstating the persistence of the Texas Model as a framework for national policy - Gov. Rick Perry didn't fare so well, even among Republican primary voters, and Texas is no longer represented among the senior leadership in either chamber.

But that didn't deter Collins, a New York Times columnist who served as the paper's editorial page editor during much of the presidency of George W. Bush. For those who recall how the Times op-ed pages treated Bush, the tenor of Collins argument will come as no surprise.  

Collins traces a great deal of Texas' outsized influence to the leading roles Texans have played in recent decades, particularly LBJ and the two Presidents Bush. 

Collins also spends considerable time on the failed campaign of Perry, whom she portrays as an opportunistic bumbler - a device that provides some comic relief but runs counter to her larger thesis (a fact Collins doesn't seem to grasp) that Texas is overwhelming the rest of the country. Perry couldn't even persuade his own party to support him.

Good Journalism, Bad History

The primary policy analysis in the book centers on President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, a Texas-inspired model for overhauling the federal role in education.

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