One of the sad truths about our democracy is that smear jobs now constitute the bread and butter of our political discourse, particularly by the right-wing hate media and their feeders. Swift-boating a candidate has become an R trademark, thanks to Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers, Harold Simmons, and their ilk.
Democratic nominee for Texas governor, Wendy Davis, is the latest object of such besmirching. Specifically, it is alleged, she misrepresented her biography with the goal of making herself look more sympathetic than she deserved.
Her detractors, for example, are very concerned that she was less than forthcoming about her divorce that she initiated as a teenager. How dare she say she was divorced at age 19 when, according to court records, the divorce didn’t become final until age 21. She only filed for divorce when she 19. For the Rs this is a HUGE failing!
And to make matters worse, she claimed to have moved into a trailer park after her divorce, BUT, she didn’t reveal she had ONLY stayed three months until she got her own apartment. So she didn’t chop wood long enough?
Equally disturbing for this crowd is how her Harvard law school tuition was paid. Her husband took out a loan to pay for her tuition!!! Can you believe that wasn’t mentioned on her resume?!! To the right-wing, it would have been only slightly more scandalous if she had turned tricks for tuition money.
And what about representing herself as a good, caring mother when her husband did the majority of the caring for their two daughters while she was in law school!!?? How galling of her to keep that information from the public!! (As if folks don’t know that Harvard is locate quite a ways from Fort Worth where her daughters attended school.)
So, the story of Abraham Wendy splitting logs to make money to raise her children and finance her education has been revealed as a deception along with her poor mothering skills!!! Does that mean she intends to fight for education, equal rights, and a strong economy any less?
Is Wendy Davis’s real failing the fact that she didn’t anticipate that her biography would become red meat to be picked over by the opposition? The Dallas Morning News, in a disingenuous editorial (since their reporter, not the opposition exposed these issues with her resume), expressed “disappointment” that she wasn’t “smart” enough to realize that she needed to be more forthcoming and specific about the facts of her life in order to campaign more effectively.
Instead of lacking campaign smarts, however, Wendy Davis could have considered (if she thought about it at all) that her age when she was finally divorced, how long she lived in a trailer park post-divorce, or the specifics of her law school tuition payments were nothing of substance concerning who she is or what she would do in office. Simply, why would anyone care?
For me, the biography of Wendy Davis that really sheds light on who she is and her priorities pre-dates those (non-) issues. I’m referring to the chapter in which her parents divorced when Wendy was 13, and her father abandoned the family, paying no child support, and leaving her mother equipped with nothing more than a 9th grade education to work menial jobs to support herself and her daughter. That was also the chapter wherein Wendy begins to work at age 14, selling newspaper subscriptions and serving fast food at Orange Julius. And yet, in spite of these difficult circumstances, she graduated from high school as a member of the National Honor Society.
I know the significance in this part of the story because it’s a lot like mine. My parents also divorced when I was 13, old enough to witness and feel my mother struggling with business college (a.k.a. secretarial school) where she studied typing, shorthand, and filing, so she could get an office job. While we were lucky because my father paid child support and mother received other assistance in the divorce decree, it was still very hard for her and for us.
How many times did my mother tell me that, no matter what, I had to get a college degree? As many times as Wendy’s mother surely told her? But the words were unnecessary. My mother’s experience proved to me that life was uncertain and you must be ready to support yourself and your children, whether you want a career or not.
Also, like Wendy, marriage and two children altered my plans to finish my college degree in a neat four years, but I was determined, too. I intended to get a degree no matter how long it took . . . because that’s what women who watch their mothers suffer the indignities of not having an education often do. It took me until age 34 to obtain my undergraduate degree and then four years later, my law degree, with both of my sons in the audience at my graduation ceremony.
And, just in case you never ask, did my husband help me get that degree, both monetarily and by helping with the care of our two sons? You betcha! Did I miss out on some of my children’s school events or other activities because I had to attend class or study? Oh, yes!! Do I regret going to school? Not at all. Does anyone outside the family truly care how I financed law school and how the children were cared for during that time? Hardly.
The pure irrelevancy of these facts may be why Wendy Davis might not have tightened up her personal narrative. Also, too much particularity divides rather than unites the many women who have similar stories, myself being an example. In a world where more female role models are needed, why shouldn’t she stand up and represent the many of us who recognize ourselves in her?
The hogwash that the right-wing media is trying to pour over her candidacy is nothing more than gender politics, pure and simple. As my friend, Michelle Bassett, wrote in a letter to the Austin American Statesman, “If Davis were a man, not a single eyebrow would rise over the news that the children were primarily cared by their mother, who also worked to subsidize his education.” So true, my sister, so true!
Wendy Davis is a survivor – one who has worked diligently since age 14 to get an education and become a woman of accomplishment, dignity, and worthy of respect. And I have no doubt that she will fight on behalf of the women in this state who have been run over by the Republican agenda of controlling women’s bodies, dismantling public education, and letting our poor children go hungry.
Considering what is at stake, questions concerning Wendy Davis’s teenage divorce and whether her husband helped pay for her law school education contribute nothing to advance the causes and policies needed in Texas. But, I forget, when we are talking about good smear jobs, the criteria is simple: the more ridiculous, the better. After all, it’s easier for the hate media and their audience: no need to think about complicated policy issue or a candidate’s stand. Just ask our Kenyan president.