Wendy Davis’s Struggles
“I came from a place of struggle,” insisted Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis after The Dallas Morning News revealed that key details of the life story she had successfully shopped to the mainstream media were false. She wasn’t a 19-year-old mom when she was first divorced, but 21. She lived with her second husband in the very comfortable Mistletoe Heights neighborhood of Fort Worth, Texas, not in a trailer park made famous by a thousand admiring profiles. She lived in the trailer park for just a few months. One of Davis’ struggles, apparently, is with the truth.
Davis isn’t the first politician to campaign falsely as an up-from-poverty candidate. William Henry Harrison, scion of a wealthy family, campaigned in 1840 as the “log cabin and hard cider” candidate against Martin Van Buren. It worked, though Harrison didn’t live to relish his success. The story about his two-hour inaugural address, which caused him to catch pneumonia, is probably untrue — he didn’t fall ill until three weeks later. It may have been the snakeweed or leeches that gave him the septicemia that killed him, or it may have been the office seekers, who reportedly crowded the White House to the point he couldn’t find a place to rest when he felt sick.
You might suppose that reflections on the Internet age — and the impossibility of hiding the truth — will now follow the tale of Harrison’s successful deception. Not really. What’s surprising about the Davis tale is that someone actually took the trouble to question her account, because her “narrative” appeals so strongly to the liberal imagination. We just love the “little woman who conquers the world’ stories, especially if (well, OK,: only: if) she favors abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, a higher minimum wage and universal pre-K.
Davis did grow up in difficult circumstances — her parents divorced, and Davis went to work early. She also made poor decisions, moving in with a boyfriend at the age of 17. Her story of working hard to better herself, first at community college and then at Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School is a tribute to her tenacity and intelligence.
But it requires a pretty calculating coldness to omit from her story husband No. 2, Jeff Davis, the lawyer she married when she was 24 and lived with for 18 years. It was he who paid her tuition at TCU and Harvard Law, cashing out his 401(k) and borrowing money to do it. It was he who cared for her two daughters while she went to Boston to study law for three years. And it was he who got custody (with no contest) after the divorce. He notes ruefully that she left the marriage at a key juncture: “It was ironic,” he told the Dallas Morning News, “I made the last (Harvard) payment, and it was the next day she left.”
No outsider can ever know what goes on in a marriage, and it isn’t our place to speculate, but Davis herself made her single-mother-beats-the-odds personal story a key part of her campaign. Just before the Dallas Morning News story broke, Davis was the subject of a fawning profile on the “Today” Show. Maria Shriver introduced the story of the plucky gubernatorial aspirant over chyrons touting “Doing it all” and “On her own two feet.” Her personal story, we were told, “resonated across this country.” Davis visited the trailer park with Shriver and spoke of having to scrape together enough money to keep the lights on, sometimes working two jobs. Her 18-year marriage to a man who committed himself to her welfare and went into debt to help her achieve her career goals was practically airbrushed out, mentioning in passing — “she married again for a time” — to explain the appearance of her second daughter. The rest is Harvard triumphalism and her star turn filibustering an abortion law in the Texas Senate.
Davis achieved success the way most successful people do — through hard work and the support of a loving family. She, and the press who lionize her, seem all too eager to suggest that she somehow did everything all by herself. This false heroic tale is a common trope on the left these days — women doing it all by themselves. It’s more than partisan hackery. It reinforces the very damaging notion that women don’t need husbands. Many, many women are swallowing this propaganda and acting on it. They, their children and our society are suffering mightily as a result.
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