Wendy Davis: Facts Don’t Fit The Narrative

2013-07-15T220725Z_1_CBRE96E1PGG00_RTROPTP_3_USA-ABORTION-TEXAS

People like rags to riches stories. Cinderella, anyone? Misrepresentation about rags to riches stories? Well, not as much.

Which is why Texas gubernatorial candidate and abortion “rights” advocate Wendy Davis has some ‘splaining to do. A Saturday Dallas Morning News piece on her painted a slightly more complicated picture than that of a divorced teenage mother escaping poverty, graduating Harvard and becoming a lawyer solely on her own laurels and motivation. According to author Wayne Slater, “some facts have been blurred”, and she had help and a lot of it.

Davis had claimed she was divorced as a teenager at the age of 19. She was actually 21. In acknowledging the “error”, Davis said in an interview that “my language should be tighter. I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.” The age at which one experiences a momentous life event like a divorce would seem hard to forget, but it wouldn’t be because “teenage” divorcee sounds better than just “divorcee,” right? Right?

It goes on. I don’t dispute that her poor financial situation afterwards was likely, say, acute. I obviously don’t know specifics. However, it seems she endured “only a few months” in the family mobile home after the separation before moving into an apartment with her daughter.

For three years, she worked two jobs (to be applauded), and at the age of 24, married again to Jeff Davis, a successful lawyer, 13 years her elder. Now, did she endure the level of poverty that allows her to claim solidarity with others living as such? Was she even truly impoverished being able to afford an apartment on one-person income, and having a family mobile home to fall back on? Just asking the question.

Of particular interest is what happened during her second marriage, to Davis. He was, it turns out, a very supportive guy. Not only did he pick up the tab for her final two years at Texas Christian University, but he also cashed in a 401(k) and took out loans to pay the bills after her acceptance to Harvard, and kept raising their two daughters in Texas while she was in Boston. Again, supportive. Put another way, she had some serious help.

Incidentally, it was around the time of the last student loan payment that their marriage went south. “It was ironic,” Jeff Davis said. “I made the last payment, and it was the next day she left.” For her part, she said she was a “vibrant part of contributing to our family finances,” which is, I guess, a way of saying “I paid the bills, too”. But, I digress. Anyways, after their divorce in 2003, he was awarded parental custody. So, to recap: he paid for the schooling via an investment account, raised the kids while Mom was in school, and maintained custody after the divorce.

The narrative that she pulled herself up by her own bootstraps feels a little, uh, porous. Also, can she claim to be a strong advocate for motherhood when she appears to have abdicated so much of it? Once more…just asking the question.

Now to my point: facts are pesky, and some carry more importance than others. But they do matter. A more centrist electorate might be willing to print a “Get Out of Jail Free” card with respect to the less flattering aspects of a candidate’s background that are omitted or passed through a rose-colored prism, but only if said electorate is enthusiastic about said candidate’s platform.

Which makes me highly skeptical about Wendy Davis’ prospects of simply sweeping this one under the rug. While Texas may have sporadic liberal pockets in some population centers, the state at large is deeply red. Regardless of the positions Davis may advocate in other issues (can anyone think of one, even?), she’s built a public persona centered almost exclusively around her vocal “Pink Tennis Shoes” opposition to last year’s contentious Texas law restricting abortion.

If the explosively divisive issue of abortion happens to be the one voters associate a candidate’s name with first, and the candidate happens to take the advocacy side of the ledger, and the state happens to be solidly-conservative Texas, the battle shall run uphill. Don’t count on voter’s adopting a sympathetic tone to a feminist darling’s background that’s less “feminism”–use whichever definition you please; they run the gamut between gender “equality” and paternalism is horrible!— and more ambition over parental responsibility, or seemly marital opportunism over marital fidelity.

Harvard Law doesn’t let just anyone in; Ms. Davis was clearly motivated and accomplished. But any honest reading of her situation must give equal credit to those around her, especially her second husband, who bore significant sacrifices to enable her success. She didn’t quite “build that,” as it were.

Voters can be mighty finicky sometimes. They’ll buy into a nice story, but don’t exactly appreciate it when salient details are curiously glossed over to fit a packaged narrative. If you have a worthy story to tell, why misrepresent it?

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About Michael Haugen

Michael Haugen is a full-spectrum conservative and recent graduate from Eastern Washington University (BS Biology). His main interests in politics and public policy center around health care, education and tax reform. He'll be returning to EWU in 2014 to complete a Master's degree in Public Administration. Follow him on Twitter: @HaugenTRA

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