The Legend of Wendy Davis: Separating Fact from Fiction
"Print the legend!" This is how Jeff Davis, ex-husband to Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate and rising star in Democratic circles, responded ("with palpable weariness") to a New York Times reporter who was trying to get to the bottom of what's really the truth about Wendy Davis's biography.
And why is the Times, following up on a story in the Dallas Morning-News questioning the details of Davis's bio (on which more in a moment), also trying to sort out the details: because Davis is largely running on her bio. The campaign bio, the picture of Wendy Davis that the political handlers have packaged for you, is this:
"When I was a single mom living in a small trailer home, I had to make some tough choices to give my daughter a better life. I worked hard to put myself through Tarrant [County] College and later Harvard Law School because my daughters were counting on me."
Here's the thing: this isn't quite true. What actually happened is this: a young Wendy Davis (then Underwood) -- who didn't live in a trailer as long as she has stated -- met a wealthy lawyer (Jeff Davis), who was 14 years older than her, who paid for her to go to TCU (undergrad) and Harvard Law School. And, for the vast majority of her three years of law school, her daughters lived in Texas and Davis sporadically visited them (all have differing accounts of exactly how often she came back). Shortly after she moved back to Texas, Harvard law degree in hand, she divorced Jeff Davis (they rarely speak anymore). Davis is now dating ex-Austin mayor Will Wynn.
In other words, Davis's bio doesn't stand up to scrutiny any more than Marco Rubio's tales of his family escaping Castro's communism. And if you're giving her a pass, the only reason why you're doing so is because she's a Democrat and so are you. If she was a conservative candidate, you'd be attacking her for her campaign spin.
What is more, Davis has come out in support of "open-carry" laws, and has recently stated that she supports a 20-week abortion ban -- the one she famously filibustered against -- but couldn't support that ban's incarnation because of the restrictions it placed on clinics and providers. If these are the stances you need to take to be palatable Democratic candidate in Texas, well, you can see how far it is from turning blue.
But what perhaps is most pernicious about Davis's rags-to-riches, pulled myself up by my bootstraps political bio fiction is this: it perpetuates the myth of the American dream, that all it takes is a little elbow grease and some pluck and you can make it. But this just isn't true: economic mobility in the United States hasn't changed in 50-plus years and our income inequality is closer to that of Jamaica and Argentina than it is other Western nations.
So Davis didn't make it because she just wanted it more or was willing to make those sacrifices. She had a wealthy benefactor who made her path much easier. Davis's cognitive dissonance probably prevents her from admitting this, but that's her real bio. All this does is make her not that much different from any other narcissistic politician, Democrat or Republican.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.