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Gail Collins discusses politics at Page Hall

May 1, 2013

by Matt Henderson

Gail Collins discussed her empty versus crowded places theory and her theory on the media’s obsession with scandal Tuesday night at the University at Albany’s Page Hall.

Over 150 people crowded Page Hall to hear Gail Collins speak.

Over 150 people crowded Page Hall to hear Gail Collins speak.

A crowd of more than 150 people listened, laughed, and had the chance to ask Collins about her columns and her ideas on politics during the event.

Collins took the stage to thunderous applause. Almost immediately, Collins started complaining about the problems in the U.S. today. “Sometimes I feel there aren’t enough people that care about state politics,” Collins said.

It was “worrisome” to the author that so many functional local presses are disappearing in the country. People need to know who is representing them locally, state-wide, and nationally.

Citizens may stray away from politics due to the controversies and scandal that seem to be surrounding themselves around our nation’s capital. “This is a very unique time politically,” Collins said. “It seems so impossible to work out.”

Gail Collins happily greeted the crowd.

Gail Collins happily greeted the crowd.

Collins told the audience her two theories on why politics are the way they are right now. The first is that there is a fight between people in empty places and people in crowded places, meaning rural and metropolitan areas. People in empty areas want no government supervision because they do not see the effects of that intervention. Residents of crowded areas want more supervision since their lives are directly affected.

This disconnect is unfair because in the Senate, residents of the crowded state of New York are worth 1/38th of a resident of the value of a resident from an empty state like Wyoming, Collins said. The empty states have an advantage because they represent less people and have more say.

After repeatedly saying New York residents are worth 1/38 of a Wyoming resident, Collins introduced her next theory. Throughout the nation’s history, the media has had many times where they are obsessed with scandal, celebrities, and shock value. Collins gave numerous examples, but one stood out.

U.S. Senator Thomas Platt visited the city of Albany in 1881. The senator rented a hotel room for a lady and himself. “He was in a hotel and his political opponents rented the room next to his,” Collins said. “They brought reporters, they were taking turns climbing up and looking over the transom, and then they were serving snacks. And the next day, The Albany Argos had all the details to what had happened except the name of the woman.”

Reporters don’t appear to be going incredibly out of their way to create scandals as they were in the past, according to Collins. However, they do jump to report when a scandal leaks.

“When you have a large number of media outlets that are under capitalized, you tend to get a very shrill political discourse because everyone is trying to wave their hands, trying to get noticed,” Collins said.

However, these phases of scandal obsession fade. Collins has an optimistic view of the country’s future because, “When people figure out something isn’t right, they change it.”

Collins signs book for Candace White

Collins signs book for Candace White.

Her optimism about the future gives hope to her readers. One audience member came to the event although she was unfamiliar with Collins’ work.  Candace White, a Harvard graduate who is currently studying for her PhD in Social Welfare and University at Albany, attended  because her friend suggested it.

“I liked her answer about hope. We had a Civil Rights movement where we made a huge change. We know we can make a change and we know we can and must go even further,” White said.

Even though White had never read Collins before, she bought one of her books discussing American Women, then stood in line to get an autograph and talk to the guest speaker.

Many of the other people in line were long time readers of Collins’ work. Gail Meehan waited in line, excitedly talking to others around her.

Books offered at the event.

Books offered at the event.

“I read her conversations blog with David Brooks. I love her sense of humor and I agree with everything she says! I also loved the Seamus comments,” said Meehan.

Before Collins even stepped on stage, the audience was reminded by Rex Smith, editor of the Times Union, what made Collins such an effective writer.  Collins’ obsession with Seamus, the Romney family dog, is one example that Smith gave when he explained how Collins stands apart from other columnists.

“There’s another thing that Gail does that makes her special,” Smith said. “The value of bringing delight to readers. Gail Collins’ humor is her trademark.”

Collins’ humor has gained her loyal readers of all ages. One mom standing in line bought a book just so Collins could sign something for her daughter who could not attend the event. She laughed that her daughter’s birthday was months away, but she was Collins’ biggest fan.IMG_0030

Once the fans had a chance to get their books signed, Collins greeted each person with a smile and talked as long as they wanted.

At the end of the event, Collins left the event happy. “I had a great time today in New York, even if we have only 1/38 of the vote.” -30-


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