Sparring With Gail Collins of The New York Times

IMG_0541 Gail Collins
Gail Collins

Gail Collins is a gifted journalist for The New York Times, a feminist trailblazer, and a person of great intelligence and good humor. But she doesn’t think much of Texas. Or, at least, she doesn’t think much of the state’s brand of conservative leadership, which she argues has been despoiling the national political landscape for years. The arguments come in her new book, As Texas Goes …, which she discussed last night with yours truly at a forum and book-signing (pictured) hosted by the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth.

Collins’ contentions about Texas and Texans are mostly familiar. The state doesn’t spend enough on services for the poor and disadvantaged, she told the crowd of about 150. Its focus on limited government has paved the way for all sorts of mischief, she went on, from the S&L crisis of the ’70s to the ’08 financial meltdown to W’s No Child Left Behind ideas. She took the usual potshots at Rick Perry (decrying all his secession talk), at the Texas focus on abstinence-only sex education, and at the state’s outsized influence on school textbooks. She even said the state’s job-generating ability is pretty much all hype, due more to geography and happenstance than Austin policy.

But it was when the discussion turned to the Alamo story — Collins sort of debunks the whole “heroes” thing — that things really got interesting.

Gail Collins, right, endures the questions of Glenn Hunter with admirable patience and humor.
Gail Collins, right, endures the questions of Glenn Hunter with admirable patience and humor.

I’d asked her, why ridicule Texans’ pride in their unique history, in their belief that Texas is a special place – and, especially, why belittle the Alamo legend? She replied basically that it’s because Texas chauvinism is just odd – she’s originally from Ohio, and no one there brags about the specialness of Ohio, she said – and because the whole “dying-bravely-for-a-valiant-cause” ethic may have mired Lyndon Johnson down in the swamps of Vietnam.

One woman in the audience, right down front, had heard enough.

Introducing herself with the nickname “Trinka,” from rural Texas, she took the microphone and told Collins firmly that the gritty story of the real Texas is to be found in the country, not in the cities. It’s out there, she said, where the people have had to learn to be self-reliant in order to survive, including using firearms to keep the varmints away. As for the Alamo, she went on, her voice rising passionately now, the battle was important because it bought Sam Houston the time he would need to be victorious at San Jacinto. [What say you, Alamo historians?] She would love to take Collins out to the battlegrounds on horseback, she finished up, because, as it is, “you don’t have a clue.”

Many in the audience disagreed with Trinka and, after that, things got a little less tense. With their questions and their hearty applause, many gave Collins kudos for raising points about Texas that needed to be raised. Then the author signed some books and went to get some rest, because today she has a similar event scheduled in Louisville, Kentucky, she said — “of all places.”

24 comments on “Sparring With Gail Collins of The New York Times

  1. I was gonna tell her that if she didn’t like it here….then geeettttt ouuuttttt! But, she doesn’t live here, so now I just don’t know what to say. Good stuff and well wishes Gail….maybe?

  2. It’s a shame she has to travel all the way from New York to point out the fialing of others. New York City must be one hell of a place to live.

  3. Poor woman had to attend two events in Flyover country. And the Buckeyes don’t brag about O-Hi-O because the blue model Collins advocates ruined the place decades ago. Let’s see, Ohioans flee Ohio for – um, TEXAS -something Collins just can’t seem to understand. Odd too that the celebrated editorial writer for the Grey Lady can’t seem to see the difference between the Texicans fight for independence and the US Strategic Policy of Containment against what was a very real expansionist communist movement (paging George Kennan).
    But that’s Collin’s MO – her religion of leftism trumps all facts.

  4. Texas may not be perfect, but if I want 44 ounces of Dr. Pepper at a time I can by god buy it.

  5. And then she pointed out that the bluebonnets are not really wildflowers, but intentionally seeded by TXDOT to distract from the potholes.

  6. “– she’s originally from Ohio, and no one there brags about the specialness of Ohio, she said.”
    ….yup.

  7. Gail’s comments last night were witty, smart and enjoyable. Her criticisms, while familiar, were fair. She also made a point to say how much she likes the people of Texas, despite the fact that she doesn’t agree with some of our politics. I was glad she came to Dallas to share her thoughts. As a 6th generation Texan, I would welcome her back with open arms. A little friendly debate is nothing we should be scared of, and I’m glad to say the majority of the audience last night felt the same way.

  8. Ohio state motto: “Next to Indiana!”

    It’s not on the license plates because, well, that costs too much.

  9. I think it’s fairly Gail Collins despises the people of Texas, the culture of Texas, and the politics of Texas. I’m sure the majority of the audience were self-hating Texans pining away for the days when Senator Yarborough, Molly Ivins, and Ann Richards ruled the roost.

  10. First edition– how many copies of her book printed, 50- 100 ? What a waste of money for her to fly here
    Doesn’t she have anything positive to do in New York ?
    All of her old Texas buddies are dead
    Guess what? I am betting most people in Texas despise her roofbrainchatter

  11. Frankly, I was embarrassed at the impolite way that Ms. Collins was treated. It’s hard for me to understand why people would attend if they weren’t open to listening respectfully to her point of view. I think you, as the moderator, set a bad tone in your repeatedly ‘playing devil’s advocate’ which gave the audience the red light to go on the attack and Trinka, who was sitting up front in a reserved seat, so must have been known to many, was offensive and long-winded. Thank goodness for the audience member who pointed out to you that most families in Texas do want appropriate sex education for their children in schools and not, as you said, deal with it in their own families. And, yes, we do have money left to pay for better education – it’s called a rainy day fund that the Governor must be saving for a 100-year flood. Nice debunk, Ms. Collins had also of your off-base and so often used criticism of CA.

    I hope that future events will be more balanced and good natured. And I applaud Ms. Collins for not leaving early for Kentucky, where I am sure the audience will have more manners.

  12. Let’s hope that “a gifted journalist for The New York Times” isn’t afraid to debate and defend her ideas. She’s a writer, and we show her respect but not treating her like a fragile little child. She’s a grown intelligent woman, and I’m sure she’ll be fine. Plus, remember the Alamo and all.

  13. Does ANYONE think much of our brand of conservative leadership? Most of those who vote in this leadership don’t think, we ‘Talk Points’. We parrot what ex-disc jockeys tell us.
    Does any truly educated person believe the myth of the Alamo?
    Where else do you find people named ‘Trinka’
    Glenn was probably just showing off for the advertisers.

  14. I call bullshit on World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth; an organization pomoting peace and understanding doesn’t bring in a speaker who procedes to insult the host state and its residents. Fine if you want to go after Bush and Gov Goodhair but she should know where to draw the line.

    And hey @Eric; “Does any truly educated person believe the myth of the Alamo?” every state has it’s historical myths – please relocate back to NY and take your family.

  15. What exactly is the “myth of the Alamo”? Is that the one where Perseus swooped in on a pegasus slaying Mexican soldiers left and right at the Alamo to help delay Santa Ana?

  16. @GP: I would like to correct at least one of your mischaracterizations. Gail Collins was not treated impolitely by me or the audience. In fact, it was “Trinka” who was hooted down by many audience members after stating her piece; Collins, to her great credit, quickly asked these people to back off. The writer herself was given more than ample time to explain her views and then to answer legitimate questions about her findings and conclusions.

  17. Yes Gail, and everyone here believes the show Dallas accurately portrays the city. Tall tales are part of the state’s dna, and, might I say, part of it’s charm. New York city, is, clearly, immune to that sort of thing…..

  18. We had just moved to Texas from Ohio back in 1990 and took the trip down to SA to see The Alamo. My daughter was about a year-old, and we wanted to get a picture of her there. I sat her on some little stone outcrop on the wall near the entrance and a guard came up and told us we couldn’t take her picture like that. Why, I asked.

    “No sittin’ on The Alamo,’ he said gruffly and moved us on.

    So, I pass this on to Gail Collins. When you come to Texas and talk about the myth of The Alamo, it ain’t right. Doesn’t matter if it may be true or not. Because as all of us Texans (native or adopted) know there is no sittin’ on The Alamo. And Gail, you sat upon and laid down a big one on The Alamo.

  19. I never knew Glenn Hunter was so classy looking. Sort of Dominique Dunneish.

  20. Wouldn’t want to try making money selling makeup to this woman. She’s prima facie for undeniable truth of life 24.

    Bet she also has that rather considered, takes-pause affectation the medium talent utilize to enhance their perceived intelligence.

    BOR-ING!

    People have always come to Texas to make a better life. And it must really irk her that there are still some that will not submit to letting the Government do that for them.

  21. What we fail to mention in all of this is that most of what she says in her book and about Texas is unfortunately true. I have lived here 40+ years and I have never been more embarrassed for my state than I am now. We have some wackos running this place and unfortunately, they are the face of Texas, and we are guilty by association. This state might be gaining jobs while most other states are suffering at this time, but in 20 years we are going to be a very poor, uneducated, economically depressed state, due to the policies we have in place at this time. We have the highest, or almost the highest rates of iliteracy, poverty, teen pregnancies, high school drop-outs, uninsured, etc…but all we talk about is how we are creating more jobs than the other states. We are headed for a downfall.