As an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, Gail Collins is an unusually funny and sane presence on the national scene.
Author of books on topics ranging from feminism to President William Henry Harrison, Collins has now written a send-up of Texas.
How can you resist the logic of a lawyer who argued that hiring a hooker to entertain a bank regulator couldn’t be considered a bribe if said regulator was “unable to rise to the occasion?”
That’s just one telling story in “As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda.”
We spoke at her New York Times office.
Lundborg: When did it occur to you that Texas was having a baleful influence on the rest of the country?
Collins: When Rick Perry made that sort of semi-famous secession speech, in which he did not call for secession, but did not leave us feeling loved in the rest of the 49.
Texans feel so persecuted; yet they’ve been running the country for the last 30 years.
Lundborg: You say Texas is similar to the Tea Party in the mixture of “egomania” and “paranoia.”
Collins: It’s the best possible combination, isn’t it, if you want to get stuff done?
Lundborg: Among the things you hold Texans responsible for -- banking laws, financial deregulation, energy policy, education, starting wars -- which is the worst?
Collins: The refusal to deal about global warming. It is very important to Texas politicians that we never discuss it, never even acknowledge it.
Lundborg: Is that energy companies talking?
Collins: It’s partly that, and it’s partly oil, and it’s partly that sense that if you agree that this is happening then the government will get to do something and, therefore, we don’t want it to happen.
Lundborg: Why are you not more cynical?
Collins: I think I’ve got a good cynical thing going here. But usually if you poke around at the way people are feeling about things there is some sane reason.
The real division in the country is between people from the empty places and people from the crowded places.
The people who live in empty places presume that they can take care of themselves. Of course you need guns -- there is nobody else around -- and I can do whatever I want to do with my land. You keep the government away.
Whereas if you live in a crowded place like New York, you want lots of government sort of making things orderly, and protecting you from crime, from dog poop on the sidewalk and all the other stuff. We are responding from our own history.
Lundborg: Why are Republicans going after women’s rights?
Collins: I don’t think it’s a woman issue. It’s a sex issue to a great degree. The sex thing is just incredibly bizarre, the fact that we are still fighting about contraception.
It’s about sex and it’s about having control of your own sexual behavior.
Lundborg: How would you characterize Obama’s presidency?
Collins: I think you would characterize it as pretty successful if he hadn’t oversold it so much the first time around.
Lundborg: Can you elect as president a man who drove to Canada with his dog on the roof?
Collins: If we can bring ourselves to elect somebody who has completely denounced everything he stood for when he was governor of Massachusetts, I guess we could get over the dog too.
Lundborg: How does it happen that you and Maureen Dowd are the only funny writers at the Times?
Collins: I can’t speak for Maureen but the reason I use humor is because I got my start covering the Connecticut State Legislature. How can you get people to pay attention to this stuff?
That’s when I started using humor, because you can get people to stick with you a lot longer when it’s kind of funny.
Lundborg: How has the Times changed since you started in 1995?
Collins: A lot. We went through this enormous web-based change in which you sense the readers’ exact feelings about things constantly, and you’re held much more responsible for what you do.
It makes for weird lives in some ways, but you do have this sense of responsibility that I think is a lot better than the old kind of elite sense of paternalism that we had before.
Lundborg: You wrote a book on feminism, so tell me, how did designers manage to get women into those stilettos?
Collins: You can hit as many revolutions as you want but women are always going to wear uncomfortable shoes that look good. It’s just going to always happen.
Lundborg: When Birgit Nilsson was asked what it took to sing Isolde, she said, “A comfortable pair of shoes.” What can you do in 7-inch spikes?
Collins: If they can walk around in the shoes they wear today, they can do anything. They are totally capable of taking over the world.
(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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