A thirteen hour filibuster in the Texas State Senate by Wendy Davis toward the end of last year’s legislative session that delayed a restrictive abortion bill from passing made her a national figure and hero to abortion rights activists who form part of the Democrat base. Though eventually futile in its purpose, it brought Davis to the attention those who saw a charismatic figure who could help “turn Texas blue” as a candidate for governor in this year’s state elections.
Davis’s campaign has fashioned an appealing hardship-to-success story for her. She was a divorced teenaged mother living in a trailer and waiting tables who, through hard work and singular focus, earned her way through community college, Texas Christian University, and eventually to a law degree from Harvard. She ran for the city council in Fort Worth twice before winning a term there and is now in her second term as a Texas state senator.
Wayne Slater, a Dallas Morning News political writer, has written an in depth article about Davis’s life narrative that seems to reveal a somewhat checkered version. (See article here.) Although Slater does not do a hatchet job, his article alleges that “Davis’[sic] life is more complicated, as often happens when public figures aim to define themselves. In the shorthand version that has developed, some facts have been blurred.” What he actually does is show a more nuanced story. There are no revelations of bad conduct or skulduggery, and the worst that can be said regarding Davis’s character that she was an opportunist. Of course, as Margaret Mitchell’s character Rhett Butler observed in Gone with the Wind, opportunism is held in ill repute, chiefly by those who had the same opportunity but didn’t take it. No, Davis has a pretty good rags-to-riches story in grand narrative, and she would be wise to emphasize it. The details, none of which are sordid and thus not very interesting, will be mostly ignored.
Davis’s background reminds me of Robert Reich’s essay “The Lost Art of the Democratic Narrative” (The New Republic, March 28, 2005). Although the narrative, which Reich concedes had been the Republican story from 1980 through 2004, was apparently taken to heart subsequently by Democrat strategists. They successfully used it to elect Barack Obama President, at least for the first term and probably the second. With a great deal of unwitting Republican help, I might add.
Reich’s narrative has four essential American stories, two positive, or hopeful: the Triumphant Individual and the Caring Community; two negative, or fearful: the Mob at the Gates and the Rot at the Top. The candidate or party that has three of the four will generally win, assuming they get the stories into the consciousness of the electorate.
As stated above, Wendy Davis has a great Triumphant Individual story. While the Caring Community generally has been Democrat turf for some time, it’s unclear how she can or will exploit it. As for the Mob at the Gates, that is Republican turf. I have not heard her stance on gun control, but she could partially neutralize the GOP hold there by declaring her belief in Second Amendment rights, however vaguely. As for the Rot at the Top, in Texas there’s not much grist for that mill at present, in Texas anyway.
Republican contender Greg Abbott has his own Triumphant Individual story which should be nearly as good. While out running for exercise when a young man just out of law school, a tree fell on him and damaged his spine and permanently paralyzing him. Actually, a spinal cord injury creates many more problems than simply paralysis of the extremities, which anyone who, or is close to, one has suffered that kind of injury knows. Nevertheless, despite his disability, Abbott had a distinguished law career, was a trial judge and Texas Supreme Court Justice, and now has been a three-term Attorney General. He boasts that, while some figuratively have a steel spine, he literally has one.
The Mob at the Gates, foreign and domestic, is always there. Abbott includes the federal government as part of that mob, and that plays well in Texas. He is very much a gun rights advocate and NRA member. On behalf of the state, he filed an amicus curiae brief in the District of Columbia v. Heller case. He launched Cyber-Crimes and Fugitive units in the AG office. He defends the Voter ID law, which is arguable a Mob at the Gates issue for many. Abbott’s Caring Community narrative is that he vigorously enforces child support laws, and has used his attorney general power to protect consumers by shutting down and prosecuting scams. Still, Abbott will have a hard time wresting this issue from any Democrat. The dole is what many Democrat supporters believe is necessary to have a Caring Community. As stated above, there is no serious Rot at the Top in Texas presently.
I have to say that in many ways I really like Wendy Davis. She is obviously intelligent, has much greater than average stamina and persistence, and has an awful lot of gumption. While I am certainly not “in favor of” abortion, I believe it is a moral issue for the woman concerned and, in general, not the government’s business. Anyway, Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and cannot be changed except by Constitutional amendment, which is not going to happen.
Still, she’s not my guy, or gal, if you must. The GOP is not perfect by any means, but it is far less threatening to individual rights, particularly in the economic sphere.
When name recognition, the statewide dominance of the GOP, and the absence of a Presidential election are factored in it appears Greg Abbott has the edge. Wendy Davis might be a formidable candidate, but she ain’t no Ann Richards. More importantly, Greg Abbott is no Clayton Williams (for those who remember 1990).
Nevertheless, as far as who will win, it’s a long way to November.