You likely remember Wendy Davis. She's the Democratic Texas state senator who staged a one-person filibuster in an effort to protect women's abortion rights. She's now running for governor. Part of her story is that she was a divorced, single mother who, at the age of 19, lived in a mobile home and then later graduated from Harvard law school with honors. And now, her likely Republican opponent has been criticizing her, saying that the facts are not as she has been presenting them.
And y'know, he's right. It turns out that she wasn't 19 at all -- mind you, she was separated at 19. She just didn’t file for divorce until 20 and the divorce wasn’t official until she was 21. And no, she didn't live in a mobile home a long time -- just a few months.
Well, schnikey. What a twisted fabrication.
In fairness, the story is indeed not fully accurate. It's just...well, what she's saying is true. She was a young separated mother who lived in a mobile home while raising her child, who went on to graduate from Harvard Law with honors. I understand that she wasn't 19. I understand that she wasn't divorced yet. I understand she didn't live in the mobile home very long. And I understand why her Republican opponent thinks that this undercuts her story. I get it. But most of us live in the real world, and that's the problem: try selling the importance of those details to women in Texas. Especially those who...well, y'know, vote. This isn't an argument, this is an election. And the more you try to insist that it makes a difference that Wendy Davis was 20 when she filed for divorce and not 19, and that she was separated and living on her own but not yet divorced, and that she only lived in a mobile home for mere months, and the more you double-down to try and suggest that her story shows her to be a liar, the deeper the hole you're going to dig for yourself. Most especially among women voters, who know that Wendy Davis filibustered for 11 hours to protect the rights of women.
The details are wrong. But this isn't the case of some politician who claimed he fought in Vietnam and won the Purple Heart, and it turns out he had a deferment and was never in the military. This isn't the case of a politician who said he has a law degree from Yale, and he only went there for summer school after his junior year in high school. This is someone whose core story is true. Nothing that is incorrect changes the issue. She was a young woman, not yet even 21, separated from her husband, raising her kid alone in a mobile home.
Yes, some of the details aren't exact. No question. But seriously, sometimes wisdom says to leave it alone, grit your teeth and move on because you'll only make it worse for yourself. Most women -- probably most men -- will likely think you don't understand the very real challenge this hero to women faced and overcame, and that you're nitpicking unimportant details because you're cold-hearted, and are precisely the kind of man Wendy Davis has been fighting against who doesn't understand women and their struggles and are always trying to keep them down. And the more you say, "Yeah, but she was 20, not 19!", that sucking sound into the vortex only gets worse.
So, then, what did the opponent's spokesman say after Wendy Davis defended herself? How did he gracefully respond?
He said that Wendy Davis "systematically, intentionally and repeatedly deceived Texans for years about her background, yet she expects voters to indulge her fanciful narrative."
That sucking sound you hear is not Roto-Rooter.
Yeah, "fanciful." It was all just a light-hearted fantasy. Tra la. A 19-year old separated mother raising her kid in a mobile home. How fanciful can you get?!
This is the definition of tone-deaf.
And why is it tone-deaf? Because this is the defense Wendy Davis gave when the charges were made public --
"We're not surprised by Greg Abbott's campaign attacks on the personal story of my life as a single mother who worked hard to get ahead. But they won't work, because my story is the story of millions of Texas women who know the strength it takes when you're young, alone and a mother."
And that's the problem with criticizing her on the details. Because the bigger story is right. And the people who understand that -- the millions of Texas women -- they vote. You can win the argument and lose the war.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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