On the campaign trail in October 2008, Barack Obama walked through the Ohio neighborhood of Joe Wurzelbacher, who would soon be known as Joe the Plumber. Joe asked the presidential candidate about taxes, and the two got into a bizarrely famous discussion. That fame transferred to Joe himself. When the New York Times reported on it, the paper insisted that Joe, “like other celebrities, found himself under scrutiny.” Well, not exactly. But what the Times wrote next only looks more unhinged with the passage of time:
Turns out that “Joe the Plumber,” as he became nationally known when Senator John McCain made him a theme at Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate, may run a plumbing business but he is not a licensed plumber. His full name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher. And he owes a bit in back taxes.
The premise of his question to Mr. Obama about taxes may also be flawed, according to tax analysts.
An Obama supporter and Ohio public official even launched a creepy and unsanctioned search into Wurzelbacher’s personal records. He asked Obama a question, you see.
It’s not uncommon for anyone–public official or not–who is viewed as posing a risk to an up-and-coming liberal political star to find themselves the target of a smear campaign, or worse. And so it was perhaps only a matter of time before Wendy Davis’s ex-husband, Jeff Davis, got dragged through the mud. Davis, you’ll remember, is the pro-abortion extremist running for governor of Texas. She has been lionized by the liberal press, but then it turned out that she had fudged details of her personal story, which she had used to rise to prominence.
Though she portrayed herself as a struggling single mother, the Dallas Morning News pointed out that her ex-husband had in fact helped put her through school, cashed in his 401(k) for her, took care of the kids while she was away, and opened doors for her politically. Once she finished school and had those connections, she divorced him. When she was called on the dishonesty, she responded exactly as would be expected: she and her supporters made false accusations of her opponent, including of sexism.
But it was only going to get worse for her ex-husband, and now it has. Politico is running with a magazine piece by Liza Mundy defending Davis. Most of the article is mendacious–it consists of setting ablaze a field of straw men. But then she aims at Jeff Davis:
While she has been portrayed as the materialistic beneficiary of a duped husband, let me offer another plausible interpretation: At some point Jeff Davis astutely realized he had married a woman who aimed to do more than answer phones and serve salads. He saw that it would be not just in her interest, but his, if he facilitated her advance. He helped her go to law school not only out of the goodness of his heart but because he was betting on her economic prospects, as women have long bet on the prospects of men. How many hundreds of thousands of American women worked to put a husband through law or med school? Did we criticize the men who benefited? Jeff Davis did for his spouse what wives have long done for husbands: He invested in her—their—future.
When Mundy says “let me offer another plausible interpretation,” what she is saying is she’s about to speculate without evidence that Jeff Davis had ulterior motives when he made great sacrifices for his family. Later, she says, “Just who was financially benefiting from whom?” She’s just asking questions, right? Just inviting the political world to join her in baseless speculation to tear down the name of a private individual so that a politician can have her career elevated by standing on the ruins of the reputation she’s hoping to raze. Harmless liberal fun, right?
She’s not done:
In short, what seems to have happened is what happened in a number of marriages of her generation: Over time, their roles swapped and Wendy Davis became the spouse with higher-octane aspirations. For many couples, this is destabilizing; it may have been for Wendy and Jeff Davis.
So, Jeff Davis, according to Mundy’s theory, was selfishly invested in Wendy Davis’s success and then decided he didn’t appreciate her walking through the doors he opened? This is not a very coherent attack. The truth is, Wendy Davis’s personal story should not be held against her. What she’s being judged for is not telling the truth. Attacking her ex-husband for supporting Wendy Davis and being a conscientious father is in poor taste, and doing so while claiming personal attacks on Wendy Davis to be out of bounds is plainly hypocritical.