Meridian Star

Columns

January 24, 2014

Wendy Davis stretches the truth

MERIDIAN — BY RICH LOWRY

Perhaps the slogan of the Wendy Davis campaign should be that behind every successful woman is a good man.

The Texas gubernatorial candidate needs no introduction. Her filibuster of a bill to ban abortion in Texas after 20 weeks made her an instant star for progressives and much of the media -- because few things are as stirring as a principled stand in favor of near-infanticide.

Her personal story also was catnip for the press, thrilled by the trajectory of the former teen mom who lived in a mobile home and eventually earned a law degree at Harvard. It's as if the protagonist of a Horatio Alger novel pulled himself up by his bootstraps and onto the board of Planned Parenthood.

Given her enormous wave of positive coverage, it's remarkable that Wendy Davis felt the need to gild the lily, but so she did.

"By 19," her website said, "Wendy was a single mother." Actually, as Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News reported, she didn't get divorced from her first husband until age 21. She lived in a mobile home alone for a few months after the two separated, before moving in with her mom and then into her own apartment.

According to her website, she got through school "with the help of academic scholarships and student loans." This is true, but elides the fact that after she married Jeff Davis, a successful lawyer 13 years her senior, he paid for her last two years at Texas Christian University, and cashed in his 401(k) and took out a loan to put her through Harvard.

The marriage eventually hit the rocks. He tells Slater: "It was ironic. I made the last payment, and it was the next day she left." When they divorced, Jeff Davis was awarded parental custody of the kids, rare in Texas.

None of this need necessarily be damning -- in any case, it's not unusual for ambitious politicians to take advantage of supportive spouses -- but it wasn't the story Davis told about herself.

In part, she must have exaggerated for simple dramatic effect. In a profile just last week, the "Today" show accompanied her back to the mobile home as if it were taking Abraham Lincoln back to his log cabin. Of course, there was no visit to, let alone mention of, the "historic home in the Mistletoe Heights neighborhood of Fort Worth" (in Slater's words), where she was living with Jeff Davis by age 24.

But her version of her story also carries an ideological charge. So much of her allure for her feminist political base is her status as a go-it-alone single mom. That she benefited from the stability and resources of marriage can't be allowed to muddy the picture. Davis and her hagiographers in the media want to make her out more as Julia, the Obama-campaign-generated cartoon dependent on government for help, than as a real person who relied on the most basic institution of civil society, family.

In her witless pushback, Davis blamed her opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, for the Dallas Morning News story. Slater tweeted that "in researching, I talked to no -- zero -- Abbott people."

When the Abbott campaign naturally seized on the report, Davis fumed on Twitter, "These attacks show that Greg Abbott's completely out of touch with the struggles that I faced and so many Texans face."

To suggest that Abbott is unfamiliar with struggle is offensively stupid. When he was a law student in his 20s, he was out jogging when a tree fell on him, shattering his spine. He spent months recovering in the hospital and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.

Supporters of Wendy Davis have risen to her defense on the novel theory that it is sexist to demand that a newly minted feminist icon avoid misleading people. For them, all that really matters is her abortion extremism. Everything else is a detail, including her life story.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com

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