Politicians have always tended to embellish their autobiographies, but Wendy Davis has apparently given the practice a peculiarly modern twist.
In case you don’t follow Lone Star State politics or feminist fads, Davis is the Texas state senator who became a darling of the left with a talkathon filibuster of an abortion bill. The bill was a very reasonable and quite mainstream proposal to restrict the late-term abortions that are opposed by a vast a majority of Americans and banned outright in almost every political jurisdiction in the world, as well as providing the same sort of regulatory oversight of abortion clinics that is required of every other health care provider, but to hear Davis’ admirers tell it she was standing alone in her pink running shoes against a vast patriarchal plot to chain bare-footed pregnant women to stoves. She was hailed in the national press as a distaff version of the title character in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” except that Jimmy Stewart wasn’t fighting so bravely on behalf of infanticide and grisly unregulated Philadelphia-style abortion mills, and the publicity and resultant coast-to-coast fund-raising bonanza propelled her to the top of the Democratic party’s list of potential gubernatorial candidates.
Davis was further aided by her inspiring life story as a struggling single mother who rose from a Fort Worth trailer park to Harvard Law School and on to national political prominence. It’s the stuff of a Lifetime Network movie, but has unfortunately turned out to be just as realistic. An intrepid reporter at The Dallas Morning News checked out the tale and found several inaccuracies of various significance. Davis was 21 when she divorced her first husband, not 19 as she has testified under oath and claimed in her campaign literature, she spent only a short time in the trailer park before moving in with her mother and then to an apartment, and her divorce settlement included the Texas treasure trove of a three-year-old Pontiac Grand Prix, a ’72 Firebird, and a ’67 Chevy pickup. More embarrassingly, Davis’ studies at Harvard were not paid for entirely by the student loans and scholarships she mentions in her stump speeches but mostly by her well-heeled second husband, who tells the Morning News that she dumped him on the day after the last payment was made. Further undermining the image of a heroically independent single mother, Davis had left her children in Texas while attending law school and after the ensuing divorce the second husband was awarded custody not only of their child but also of Davis’ child from the previous marriage.
These cold facts are so insufficiently heartwarming that they have provoked the inevitable cries of sexism. While admitting that “My language should be tighter,” Davis has blamed a potential Republican opponent for leaking the truth, a pointless point that the Morning News reporter adamantly denies, and clumsily attempted to throw some mud of her own. With some more loose language she said that Republican nominee George Abbott is “running scared” and “hasn’t walked a day in my shoes,” which strikes many Texans as insensitive given that Abbott has his own inspiring struggles as a longtime paraplegic. Her professional media allies have been more carefull to dismiss the embellishments as a mere “gaffe” or chalk it up to gynephobia, while the more hysterical supporters in the social media have alleged a nefarious scheme to keep women subservient.
Such feeble arguments sufficed to get the exceedingly white Elizabeth Warren elected to the Senate in Massachusetts after her absurd claims to be Cherokee were predictably disproved, but it remains to be seen if they’ll work in Texas. Texans are quite so insane as Massachusites, for one thing, and Davis’ brand of Warren-style liberalism is thus a harder sell in Texas. Warren also has a hard-earned reputation as a gun control crusader, and anyone who would restrict the right to kill a would-be burglar or rapist while defending the right to kill a viable fetus was probably a long-shot to be Texas governor no matter how many Upper East Side donors send contributions.
Even the campaign-approved biography struck us as a bit cloying and all too up-to-date. Candidates always emphasize any hardscrabble origins they might have, claiming to have been born in little log cabins that they built with their own two hands, but the traditional narrative never involved trailer parks or teenaged divorces or Harvard Law School, none of which are inherently admirable accomplishments. Single motherhood seems to be a modern requirement for secular sainthood, with a special appeal to the “Girls”-watching segment of the unmarried female demographic that the Democrats have so successfully courted, but surely it should involve having a custody of the kids before the violins swell. In any case we hope that Texans will vote for the better candidate rather than the more tear-jerking story, and that they will insist the stories at least be true.
— Bud Norman