When Texas lawmaker Wendy Davis was filibustering a draconian anti-abortion bill last June, and vaulting to Democratic celebritydom, you just knew that conservatives would work themselves up to take her down.
Sure enough, the gubernatorial hopeful’s preferred narrative (Wendy Davis, struggling single mom who became a success story) is now being challenged by her enemies’ version of her life (Wendy Davis, liar, bad mother, and gold-digger who sacrificed her family on the altar of her political ambitions). This kind of sexist sliming was bound to happen; many months ago, Fox News commentator Erick Erickson tried to exploit her good looks by labeling her “Abortion Barbie.”
It’s hard to imagine that Davis could wind up as governor. Texas has been notoriously inhospitable to female candidates; statewide, no woman has won a Texas government race in 20 years. But conservatives are well aware that the state’s increasingly diverse demographics could make Texas more competitive in the not too distant future, so they’d like to ensure that the Democrats remain leaderless. Hence the current bid to whack Davis at the starting gate.
She has made their job a bit easier. According to an article last weekend in the Dallas Morning News, Davis has “blurred” details of her own journey. She has stated that she got divorced at 19, but she was actually 21. She has stated that she lived with her young daughter in a “mobile home park,” but she actually lived there for only a few months before finding an apartment. She has described herself as a single mom who worked two jobs, got herself into a Texas college and Harvard Law School (all true), but actually her second husband paid some of the Texas tuition, plus the Harvard tuition, and he got parental custody when they divorced. Davis had copped to her omissions, telling the newspaper: “My language should be tighter….I need to be more focused on the detail.”
All this week, the Republican right has been gleefully spiking the ball in the end zone. And yes, Davis deserved to be called out. Nevertheless, it’s amusing to see the same fabulists who routinely concoct lies like “death panels” and “Saddam WMDs” suddenly pledge fealty to the truth. If only they were this vigilant about the birthers and the other right-wing peddlers of snake oil. If only they didn’t come off like misogynists, scoffing at the success story of a woman who forged a career. (More on that later.)
Indeed, if only they’d put Davis in perspective and acknowledge that what she did “often happens when public figures aim to define themselves.” That’s a line from the Dallas newspaper story they love so much. So is this line: “The basic elements of (her) narrative are true.”
Speaking of perspective: If I had a dime for every politician who has blurred/inflated/exaggerated his or her personal narrative, I’d flee this cold snap for my private island in the South Pacific.
Random examples abound. Future president William Henry Harrison said repeatedly in 1840 that he was born in a log cabin; actually, he hailed from Virginia aristocracy, and he was born in a mansion. George W. Bush said in his 2000 campaign autobiography that after he finished his Air National Guard fighter plane training, “I continued flying with my unit for the next several years.” In truth (as we later learned), he never flew in uniform again, because he was suspended from active duty for failing to show up for a physical. Heck, a current Democratic senator, Dick Blumenthal, used to go around saying “I served in Vietnam,” whereas, in reality, he got five deferments and never served in Vietnam.
But the worst aspect of the conservatives’ anti-Davis crusade is their sexist ‘tude. They love this anonymous quote in the Dallas newspaper story, attributed to a former Davis colleague: “Wendy is tremendously ambitious. She’s not going to let family or raising children or anything else get in her way.” Wow. Stop the presses. Apparently when a woman is “tremendously ambitious,” to the point where she arguably puts her career first and family second, it’s a pejorative description. But if a male politician was described as “tremendously ambitious,” to the point of putting his family second…that wouldn’t be considered a story. Because ambition is manly, and, besides, he’d have a wife at home to handle the kids.
As Becky Haskin, a Republican who served with Davis on the Fort Worth city council, remarked the other day, “If this involved a man running for office, none of this would ever come up. It’s so sad. Every time I ran, somebody said I needed to be at home with my kids.”
That attitude, endemic in Texas, may well ensure that Davis loses her gubernatorial bid. On the other hand, the gender-based attacks will likely raise her national profile and remind most women, yet again, that the GOP is hostile to their interests and struggles. If Republicans truly want to repeat the wipeout that they suffered in 2012 – when they lost women by 12 points in the presidential tally – they need only hew to their present course. Accordingly, I’m waiting for Mike Huckabee to diss Davis as one of those gals who “cannot control their libido.”
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