Already, the narrative of the 2014 Texas governor’s race is being set. Democrats and many in the media will seek to portray Sen. Wendy Davis as a heroine for women’s health care, and will label any criticism of her (whether from Republican Greg Abbott or elsewhere) as a “war on women.”
That narrative is not merely inaccurate. It’s also harmful to the political process.
There’s the normal and important vetting process all candidates should undergo. Being governor is a tough job. When Democrats demand that her opponents stifle and all criticism of Davis, they’re keeping Texas voters from seeing how she performs under pressure. Can she handle it?
The Dallas Morning News has come under fire for simply questioning the story she tells about herself.
“Wendy Davis has made her personal story of struggle and success a centerpiece of her campaign to become the first Democrat elected governor of Texas in almost a quarter-century,” the News reported last week. “While her state Senate filibuster last year captured national attention, it is her biography — a divorced teenage mother living in a trailer who earned her way to Harvard and political achievement — that her team is using to attract voters and boost fundraising.”
But there are holes in that story.
“The basic elements of the narrative are true, but the full story of Davis’ life is more complicated, as often happens when public figures aim to define themselves,” the newspaper’s Wayne Slater wrote. “In the shorthand version that has developed, some facts have been blurred. Davis was 21, not 19, when she was divorced. She lived only a few months in the family mobile home while separated from her husband before moving into an apartment with her daughter.”
Many on the left have leapt to her defense.
“But now she’s being Swift-boated,” claims Margaret Carlson, writing for Bloomberg. “The story of the courageous, articulate and inspiring lawyer has become the tale of a fabulist who can’t be trusted after the Dallas Morning News raised a swirl of questions about her personal history, some provided by her ex-husband. She says the allegations came from her would-be Republican opponent in the gubernatorial race, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.”
Then there’s Slate magazine’s reaction.
“While Slater’s story fails at demonstrating that Davis is dishonest, it does do a smashing job of portraying Davis as the embodiment of a particularly misogynist stereotype, the scheming gold-digger who manipulates a hapless man with her sexuality,” Slate responds. “Now the question is whether Slater’s sexist narrative will hurt Wendy Davis’ chances. It’s hard to imagine that there are many Texans who were considering voting for a pro-choice Democrat but would be too scandalized by her deviations from gender norms to vote for her now.”
See where this is heading? Critics are sexist merely for speaking up. Any media that questions Davis is doing Greg Abbott’s bidding.
That’s bad strategy in any election, but it’s particularly unhelpful in Texas. Voters will see through the false indignation and the phony “war on women” narrative. And the tough questions will still be asked.