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Why a Feminist Heroine Revised Her Bio

Has there ever been a more meteoric rise to national political prominence than that of Wendy Davis? A year ago Davis was so obscure a Democratic Texas state senator that even savvy liberal Beltway pundits couldn’t have picked her out of a police lineup. But her June 25 filibuster of a bill limiting late-term abortions and imposing more rigorous safety standards on clinics catapulted her to superstardom in the national liberal media. The legislation she managed to stop that day eventually passed (and has, despite the expectations of many liberals, largely survived judicial scrutiny) but Davis’s stand had already made her a heroine to a national media that was all too happy to celebrate her act as heroic even though they treated filibusters conducted by conservative Republican senators like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz in Washington last year as a foolish waste of time.

Indeed, Democrats could scarcely believe their luck when they learned Davis was not only a photogenic blonde whose pink sneakers became an icon for abortion-rights supporters but also had a biography that sounded like political gold. Thanks to the values of the liberal media, soon the nation learned that she was a former single teenaged mother who, by dint of old-fashioned guts, smarts and gumption, had worked her way through college and then through Harvard Law School before turning to politics. With that kind of background and the notoriety the filibuster gave her, it’s little wonder that she became a darling of national liberal political donors such as Emily’s List and the almost certain Democratic nominee in the 2014 governor’s race.

But it turns out the true account of her life doesn’t exactly match up to the story she’s been selling while raising money for her campaign. As the Dallas Morning News reported in a story published over the weekend, “facts have been blurred” in order to make her seem more sympathetic. Davis conveniently omitted some details that are germane to her tale of poverty and valorous self-sufficiency. According to the Morning News:

In an extensive interview last week, Davis acknowledged some chronological errors and incomplete details in what she and her aides have said about her life.

“My language should be tighter,” she said. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”

That sounds like typical backtracking from a politician caught fibbing. If it doesn’t deflate her boomlet, it was exactly what Democrats, who were hoping that Davis could take advantage of feminist fervor and changing demographics to give Texas Republicans a fight, didn’t want to hear.

It is true she was a single, divorced mother who went on to be the first in her family to graduate college. But not only did she fudge some dates (she was divorced at 21, not 19), the true story is that her second husband paid her college tuition and then, to enable her to attend Harvard Law School, he emptied his 401(k) account and took out a loan. He also took full care of her child by her first husband and the one they had together, while she was in Cambridge, Massachusetts for three years alone. She left her husband to divorce him immediately after he’d paid off her law school debts. He sought and was granted custody of both his stepdaughter and daughter after the divorce. 

Over time, the Davises’ marriage was strained. In November 2003, Wendy Davis moved out.

Jeff Davis said that was right around the time the final payment on their Harvard Law School loan was due. “It was ironic,” he said. “I made the last payment, and it was the next day she left.”

Wendy Davis said that as a lawyer, she contributed too. …

In his initial divorce filing, Jeff Davis said the marriage had failed, citing adultery on her part and conflicts that the couple could not overcome. The final court decree makes no mention of infidelity, granting the divorce solely “on the ground of insupportability.”

Amber was 21 and in college. Dru was in ninth grade. Jeff Davis was awarded parental custody. Wendy Davis was ordered to pay $1,200 a month in child support.

“She did the right thing,” he said. “She said, ‘I think you’re right; you’ll make a good, nurturing father. While I’ve been a good mother, it’s not a good time for me right now.’”

These new details don’t paint the state senator in the best light. But neither do they disqualify her for high office. She’s a bright, hard-working woman who came from a modest background and went on to build a successful career. In that sense, she could viewed as a role model to young people. But when the “blurred details” are included in her biography, what we see is not a feminist heroine who persevered despite the disadvantages of being a young mother struggling against poverty and patriarchy. Instead, she comes across very much like the stereotypical male politician who exploited a helpful spouse and then sacrificed his wife and children on the altar of ambition. How many male governors, senators, or members of the House fit that description? One shudders to think.

The point here is not what we think about Davis’s life. The details of her divorces and how she made the jump from single mother to Harvard-educated lawyer/legislator aren’t relevant to the question of who should be governor of Texas or whether we agree with her stand on abortion. But they do tell us she isn’t a 21st century feminist version of Horatio Alger, a ruse that materially aided her rise from obscurity.

As with most such fibs, it was entirely unnecessary and now, rather than an asset, her fabricated bio will become a GOP talking point in a race in which polls already put her well behind her Republican opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. The unvarnished facts about her life posed no impediment to her political future but, with a little editing, they were made to tell a slightly different, but far more compelling story than the one about Jeff Davis paying for her education and then being dumped along with the kids.

The fact that Wendy Davis should turn out to be, like countless male politicians, a trimmer when it comes to the truth about her life, isn’t terribly surprising, especially when you consider how disingenuous many of her arguments about late-term abortion were in her celebrated filibuster. But it should serve as a reminder to true believers of all political stripes that when politicians seem too good to be true, it’s usually because they are.