Gail Collins: How Texas Hijacked the American Agenda
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Why are such fox-guarding-the-henhouse arrangements tolerated in Texas?
GC: Well, of course, that's how lobbying works in general. Lobbyists really are experts in their fields and know what they are talking about. That's why the government always listens to them as they tell the government what it's doing wrong and what it should be doing instead....
MR: Since the book has been published, three topics you address have been in the news. The Texas secession movement has gained momentum, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas lost their exclusive stewardship of the Alamo, and state representative Henry Aldridge (R-NC) made his infamous remark that women "who are truly raped" don't get pregnant because "the juices don't flow." Were you surprised to see these issues newly debated?
GC: The idea that if you don't like how things are going, you can just leave is so engrained in Texas, the secession movement is no surprise. In a November New York Times column, I quoted Peter Morrison, treasurer of the Hardin County Republican Party, as saying in defense of secession, "We must contest every single inch of ground and delay the baby-murdering, tax-raising socialists at every opportunity." I also quote him saying, "In due time, the maggots will have eaten every morsel of flesh off of the rotting corpse of the Republic, and therein lies our opportunity."
At first, I felt bad judging an entire state by one county political official but then I found out Morrison had also helped screen public school textbooks, a topic which is another chapter in my book. The Alamo is managed by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, a group whose members can claim a relative who was living in Texas during the revolution. The fight over mismanagement of the Alamo has been going on for years.
MR: You write, "Quite a bit of the information Texas students are getting seems to have arrived from another era. An abstinence-only program used in three districts assures them that if, 'if a woman is dry, the sperm will die'--which harks back to colonial-era theories that it was impossible for a woman to get pregnant unless she enjoyed the sex."
What's surprising is that within this backward milieu, Perry also mandated that all girls be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, which many charge promotes teen sex. This was also a case of lobbying since Perry's former chief of staff had just turned Merck lobbyist.
GC: Over the long run, many of Perry's stances boil down to following the money.
MR: Many forgotten national stories like the presidential campaign of H. Ross Perot and Enron have origins or connections in Texas. So do present and past political figures, according to your book, like Phil and Wendy Gramm, Karl Rove, Tom Delay, Dick Armey, Bill Bennett, Newt Gingrich and of course the Bushes. Still, I had no idea until reading your book how instrumental some figures, like Phil and Wendy Gramm, were in deregulating the financial markets and making the world safe for swaps. They were also linked to Enron.
GC: Phil Gramm had a stump speech about how his mother's devotion kept him from being an academic failure in life. She got him into a special school that turned him around – under a government program for the children of deceased veterans. He was repeatedly asked at press conferences why he would then turn around and support draconian cuts in federal funding for education. He never had an answer.
MR: Your book also reveals that the original deregulation of S&Ls and lending standards that caused the 1980s S&L crisis and Keating 5 scandal began in Texas. Deregulated lending standards are also what sparked the 2008 mortgage meltdown and subsequent US recession we are still in.