Texas is a landfill of political insanity that's fast declining into a privatized wasteland for all but its wealthiest residents. In her morbid yet hilarious new polemic As Texas Goes . . . How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda (Liveright), New York Times columnist and seismic wordsmith Gail Collins offers a slightly more subtle criticism of the Lone Star State's greed and hypocrisy. Still, the emerging picture — summed up by that of an arrogant governor Rick Perry, sporting boots nicknamed "'Freedom"' and "'Liberty," giving the ranch away to corporations while boasting his Texas pride— is as brutal as it is depressing. I asked Collins about the unfortunate influence this haven for kleptocrats has on the upper 49, and whether it's okay to laugh at how Texas has already had an impact on the country everywhere from schools to the economy.

HOW MUCH OF THIS IS ABOUT PERCEPTION, AND HOW DIFFERENT IS YOUR PERCEPTION OF TEXAS AS AN OUTSIDER THAN THAT OF EVEN A PROGRESSIVE FROM A MAJOR CITY THERE? If you live in an empty place— where your neighbor is a++ mile away— your sense about your need to be self-sufficient and to protect yourself is going to be substantially different than if you live in a city. My argument doesn't work under the assumption that [empty places] are evil and [crowded places] are virtuous. . . . It's important to remember that this is totally an outsider's book. I would never argue that I know Texas better than anyone who's lived there for their entire life. With that said, I find it funny — or at least weird — to hear people from Texas talk about how paranoid they are about the federal government infringing on them. They've been running the country for 30 years. They've led us into everything from the savings and loans scandal to the Tea Party.

IS TEXAS THE BEST EXAMPLE OF HOW EXHAUSTED THE 99 PERCENT GETS WHEN THE 1 PERCENT GETS EVERY SINGLE THING IT WANTS EVERY SINGLE TIME? It's a model for how you can grow a country in which there's very little chance for upward mobility, and with people working for little money with little safety net with little movement toward the top. That's the way it may be there, but the idea that it should be a model for the whole country seems crazy to me.

RICK PERRY IS SORT OF A STAR THROUGHOUT THIS BOOK. HOW MUCH WERE YOU EITHER LAUGHING OR HORRIFIED WHEN HE WAS BEING CONSIDERED A LEAD CANDIDATE? I started the book before he became a presidential candidate, so it was fascinating to me that the country thought a guy who wouldn't even debate his opponent in a contest in his own state was going to be able to survive debates with guys like Gingrich and Santorum. Every time he's ever run for anything his entire message was just, "Texas is great!" When he ran against Kay Bailey Hutchison, she would be talking about programs, and he would just say, "Don't mess with Texas!"

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