Wendy Davis and the hard road to the Texas Capitol
February 12, 2014 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Political narratives are necessarily reductive, invariably gauzy and thus often misleading. They tell two conflicting tales at the same time: I’m absolutely amazing and unique, and I’m just like you. But it seemed undeniable that female politicians were far more constrained than men in how they recounted their stories.... Bill Clinton could be seething with lifelong ambition; George W. Bush could be a beneficiary of immense privilege; Barack Obama could be a self-described outsider, marijuana smoker, community rabble-rouser. Any of these qualities might, if so espoused, disqualify a woman from high office. Meanwhile, no one ever stopped Clinton, Bush or Obama in his biographical tracks to say: “Wait. If you were out there, conquering the world, then you could not have been here, with your family.” Wendy Davis and the challenges of running for governor, as a woman and a Democrat, in Texas. posted by mudpuppie (36 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

And now she says, "Hey, maybe abortion restrictions are OK after all."
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:03 AM on February 12

As with all things the Dallas Morning-News prints, CP, it's always best to not mistake the headline for the story:

Davis said she could have supported a bill that contained only a 20-week ban, but the law’s restrictions on clinics and doctors have greatly curtailed access to the procedure in parts of Texas.

“It was the least objectionable,” she said. “I would have and could have voted to allow that to go through, if I felt like we had tightly defined the ability for a woman and a doctor to be making this decision together and not have the Legislature get too deep in the weeds of how we would describe when that was appropriate.”

Now I'm not saying I wouldn't prefer a "No restrictions, it's her body," response; I could and would. I actually think what she's doing here is a political two-step. Texas conservatives are never going to come down on the side of "more power in the woman/doctor's hands" so the sort of bill with restrictions she's saying she would support is like a unicorn; it will never exist. She is using the absolute hatred Texas Republicans have for women's autonomy to give herself some wiggle room for those still uncomfortable with abortion. It's very carefully done. Someone who wants to vote for her but is unsure about abortion could, in theory, use this to soothe their worries and give them the excuse they need.

I don't know if it will work, of course.
posted by emjaybee at 11:15 AM on February 12 [14 favorites]

And now she says, "Hey, maybe abortion restrictions are OK after all."

"...if the law adequately deferred to a woman and her doctor."
posted by zombieflanders at 11:16 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]

And she also says in the same article "Everyone should be able to get high on the pot all the time". See liberals! Your next messiah something something out of context.
posted by Big_B at 11:18 AM on February 12

I actually think what she's doing here is a political two-step.

This is what she has to do have a shot at winning in Texas. All politicians do it, unless they're fortunate enough to have broad support and there are no dividing topics to discuss. That's becoming a lot more rare these days, and is especially unlikely for a Democratic candidate running for governor of a very red state. And on top of all that, she has to face gender biases of all sorts: if she spends time with her kids, she's not dedicated enough to her campaign; but if she spends more time on the campaign trail away from family, she's not a good enough mother. And there are so many lazy short-hands that are generally seen as negative for women, when they're positive, or at worst neutral, for a male candidate (aggressive, strong-willed can become "bossy," vocal or enthusiastic turns "shrill"). Fucking gutter politics.

Though 1) it was very early, and 2) she was trailing, she was doing well in November in her polling versus state Attorney General Greg Abbott (R). Also of note: she was the only Democratic candidate at that time, and Abbott had little name recognition at that point.

Here's the Ballotpedia page for the 2014 Texas gubernatorial election.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:49 AM on February 12

Um, Greg Abbott has plenty of name recognition in Texas. He's the one who keeps suing Obama, remember?
posted by LizBoBiz at 11:56 AM on February 12

God, I love her. LOVE. HER. SO MUCH.

Solid article from the NYT, although there were a few subtle turns of phrase that appear to have been inserted specifically so Mr. Draper could ensure we wouldn't forget that Wendy Davis is a woman and a mother first and a bunch of other, less important stuff second, even as he appears to have struggled to be reasonably equitable. But when you're dealing with stuff like a writer feeling the need to point out how well a politician's clothes fit their body -- "...Davis was wearing a fitted black dress and high heels..." -- in spite of the fact that the quality of one's attire has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to govern, lead, or effectively represent their constituents, you don't exactly have to guess the gender of the person being profiled. It never ends!

From the comments: "A more accurate headline might have been, Can The Press Treat Wendy Davis Like a Politician Instead of Like a Woman Politician?"

From The Guardian's CIF: Painting Wendy Davis as a bad mother is political sexism at its worst

From Salon: The right's single-mom mistake: Why their latest attacks are clueless and doomed

Name It. Change It., an organization whose goal is to "work to end sexist and misogynistic coverage of women candidates by all members of the press," offers up a Pyramid of Egregiousness and a statement by Gloria Steinem that sums it all up:
"The most workable definition of equality for journalists is reversibility. Don't mention her young children unless you would also mention his, or describe her clothes unless you would describe his, or say she's shrill or attractive unless the same adjectives would be applied to a man..."
posted by divined by radio at 12:12 PM on February 12 [15 favorites]

I thought Greg Abbott was the guy who got rich off the payday loans.
posted by Big_B at 12:14 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]

Payday loans? Ick. So I googled.
Last week, the chairman of the state agency that regulates payday lenders defended the industry, saying if borrowers fall victim to fees and rates that keep them in a cycle of poverty, it’s their fault. In an interview with The El Paso Times, chairman William White said: “People make decisions. There’s nobody out there that forces anybody to take any kind of loan. People are responsible for their decisions, just like in my life and in your life.” White is a vice president of Cash America, a payday lender. Cash America’s political committee — which White contributes to — has given Abbott at least $18,000 in political donations. The Davis campaign initially reported that Abbott had received more than $200,000 from payday lenders. Records show Abbott has received nearly $100,000. Davis has gotten about $9,000 from payday lenders, according to records.
WTF Texas?

You put a VP of a Payday lender in charge of regulating Payday lenders?
posted by notyou at 12:23 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]

Single moms who don't have external support are going to be gone all day and miss out on being with their kids. Trying to at least get a higher level of pay or a desired career out of it is not the problems. Conservatives can pay single moms to stay home with their kids, if they don't value that they are the ones forcing single moms to be separated from their children whether the moms want to be or not. I think having a part time schedule and financial assistance to have a parent home afternoons is something every family should have access to, as well as time of for school holidays and summer. But that's because unlike conservatives I actually believe we should help families be able to spend time together. Conservatives could stand to learn a thing or two about family values.
posted by xarnop at 12:24 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]

WTF Texas?

Pretty much our motto.
posted by emjaybee at 12:25 PM on February 12 [7 favorites]

Don't WTF with Texas?
posted by zombieflanders at 12:29 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]

You put a VP of a Payday lender in charge of regulating Payday lenders?

Well of course! Who better understands payday lending (and therefore is qualified to understand how to regulate it) than a payday lender?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:52 PM on February 12

We are the state where a man in a banana costume waving an AK-47 was non-ironically compared to Rosa Parks. WTF Texas, indeed.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:10 PM on February 12

Seated behind the wheel of her black Tahoe hybrid S.U.V.,

Savvy. They're built in Arlington.

Davis was wearing a fitted black dress and high heels and an omnipresent half-smile that could be interpreted as both drowsy and sly.

Segue to "describe female politician using her clothing and appearance" journalistic requirement.
posted by dhartung at 3:28 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]

The truth remains the same: to succeed in politics in this world today, anyone has to toe the line, tell untruths, appease the mathematically appropriate numbers of voters in every segment of the electorate to get elected.

That is all that matters. Platforms are portable card tables put up at any particular venue to bend the truth like a prism makes colors out of light. Isms don't exist anymore....only strategic statements based on statistical analyses deduced by professional image-makers.

The betterment of the constituents is the least considered aspect of a candidates "platform". The "platform" is only an image crafted by interpreters of what is thought to be the best thing to project in order to get elected. Then the graft, and corruption, and personal wealth-grab begins.

Hate to say it, but that's the way it is. In every case.
posted by chuckiebtoo at 3:29 PM on February 12

Seriously. If you are involved in ideological politics and don't know who the mark is, it's probably you.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:28 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]

This piece seems to indicate her campaign is not handling the press very well. Any Texans with more insight on the accuracy of that?
posted by Chrysostom at 4:41 PM on February 12

I have a number of friends from Texas. I think it looks like an interesting place that seems to get a bad rap.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:21 PM on February 12

Well of course! Who better understands payday lending (and therefore is qualified to understand how to regulate it) than a payday lender?

Truly, the essence of sound regulation is "don't do anything I wouldn't do."
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:12 PM on February 12

IRL, actual women support a 20-week abortion ban, if not more restrictions, in numbers that get described as "landslides" in political reporting.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:44 PM on February 12

The point isn't 20-week abortion bans (which are devoid of scientific basis), but shutting down all access to abortion everywhere.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:59 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]

Chrysostom, I'm not a political pundit, but I haven't seen any wavering in support for Davis among those who already like her, so I don't know that I give the Observer piece a lot of credibility. We are about to have our party primaries, so my assumption is that she's doing groundwork for the actual election fight rather than trying to start things early. And Abbot being Abbot, he's already given her lots to work with by referring to (majority Hispanic) South Texas as equivalent to a Third World country. She's been hitting that pretty hard.

She has a hugely uphill battle, and her biggest victories have so far been from unconventional actions, like the filibuster, which energize constituencies that are angry and alienated by Republicans (a group that seems to get larger every day). The press is against her or dismissive; the jerrymandered and voter-suppresed election process is a big hurdle; and her opponents are both well-funded and determined.

But they also can't stop shooting their mouths off and generally being insane, and our state has a lot of brown folks and a lot of people who moved here from places which have a more liberal atmosphere.

The local party folks I know say that lots of money is going to come in for Davis from out of state; Texas is a long-term Democratic goal and they want the down-ticket victories as well as hers. The cities get a little blue-er every year; Dallas is already blue and her home city of Fort Worth is right next door and a natural target.

It's too early to tell, in my opinion. Reporters love to nitpick campaigns, but they get it wrong a lot.
posted by emjaybee at 7:41 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]

Democrat. Woman. Governor of Texas. Hmmm...can't be TOO challenging, as it has already happened.
posted by davidmsc at 12:00 AM on February 13

Did Wendy Davis “Flip-Flop” On Late-Term Abortions?
MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, who is always an outstanding analyst of abortion politics, defends Davis from the “flip-flop” charge but does fear she’s fallen into a common trap: getting snarled in the complexities of deliberately deceptive language about abortion-ban “exceptions” instead of staying on clear and high ground. Reflecting the actual priorities of the antichoice movement, the intention of the Texas bill was to reduce the availability of abortion services across the board. But reflecting RTL mendacity, supporters focused all the attention on the tiny minority of abortions that occur—usually for medical reasons but sometimes because earlier abortions were not available or affordable—after “fetal viability.”

Now Davis is locked into a debate that will inevitably go down the rabbit hole into the meaning of exceptions she accepts and those she rejects. Among other things, this will obscure the rather important and vast gap between her and antichoicers (including most Republican officeholders everywhere) on the early-term abortions that represent the vast majority of procedures and that the GOP “supply-side” strategy really aims to inhibit until such time as an actual complete abortion ban can be enacted.

Carmon’s advice to Davis and others in her position is spot-on:
It’s far too late for Davis to shy away from abortion rights, including the more politically uncomfortable parts, after confronting them head-on in her filibuster. Regardless of what she was trying to say, a political campaign isn’t a great place for complex or nuanced moral conversations. On the campaign trail, Davis would likely be better off if she stuck to the broader point she made in her filibuster: “The alleged reason for the bill is to enhance patient safety. But what [the provisions] really do is create provisions that treat women as though they are not capable of making their own medical decisions.”
That’s not a position on which she is likely ever to “flip-flop.”
posted by zombieflanders at 2:02 PM on February 13

The truth remains the same: to succeed in politics in this world today, anyone has to toe the line, tell untruths, appease the mathematically appropriate numbers of voters in every segment of the electorate to get elected.

So um you don't really know who Wendy Davis is, eh? I'm Canadian for goodness' sake and I know who she is. (And got a very nicely worded reply from one of her staff after I emailed her expressing support after her filibuster.)

She is more or less the opposite of 'politics as usual,' is what I'm saying. I'd expect her on a Presidential ballot sometime in the next two or three elections.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:27 PM on February 13

Wendy Davis Is Pretty Much Fine With the Abortion Ban She Filibustered

Except, as pointed out above, she's actually not.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:29 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]

So um you don't really know who Wendy Davis is, eh? I'm Canadian for goodness' sake and I know who she is. (And got a very nicely worded reply from one of her staff after I emailed her expressing support after her filibuster.)

Yeah, I DO know her. She'll only be able to do well in a campaign if she kisses the right ass, mutters the correct rhetoric in whatever area of Texas she's campaigning, and pleases the right campaign do's and don'ts that her planners have plotted out for her.
posted by chuckiebtoo at 2:42 PM on February 13

So you don't. Okay.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:25 PM on February 13

I dunno, I seen a (D) after her name, strong indicator to me to expect politics as usual.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 3:48 PM on February 13

A woman filibustering an anti-abortion bill in Texas with enormous public support is politics as usual?

posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:26 PM on February 13

Yes, endless jaw-jaw over abortion with mild oscillations back in forth on actual policy sounds like the same politics as usual I've been hearing my entire post-Roe v. Wade life.

You know what would be some interesting politics?

Fuck law, underground civil disobedience abortion clinics, but with reasonably legit doctors, nurses, and standards of care. That would be some politics as unusual. I will donate decent amounts of BTC for this. We've got Anarchists on this site, how about some anarchy?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:32 PM on February 13

Yeah, unlicenced unregulated underground abortion clinics are really a great way to support womens' rights, health, and safety.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:38 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]

Nugent hijacks attention in race for Texas governor

If you lay down with dogs...
posted by Big_B at 10:51 AM on February 21

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