19 or 21: How Much Did Wendy Davis "Blur" Her Biography?

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 22 2014 11:42 AM

19 or 21: How Much Did Wendy Davis "Blur" Her Biography?

183007809-texas-state-sen-wendy-davis-speaks-at-the-podium-as-she
Republicans hate these blurred lines.

Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images

Four days ago, Texas journalist Wayne Slater published a dynamite profile of Democratic gubernatorial candidate/national star Wendy Davis. His thesis: Her biography, which is one Rob Lowe cameo away from being a Lifetime movie, had been "blurred" for effect. On the right side of the Internet, and increasingly in the centrist analysis-o-sphere

- "Davis was 21, not 19, when she was divorced."

Advertisement

- She lived in a mobile home for "only a few months."

- Her second husband "paid for her last two years at Texas Christian University and her time at Harvard Law School."

- When she divorced her second husband, Jeff, in 2005, he got custody of the kids.

Slater points out that Davis has not emphasized any of this in her public statements or in the many profiles that followed her 2013 filibuster. He quotes a statement she made during redistricting: "I got divorced by the time I was 19 years old. After I got divorced, I lived in a mobile home park in southeast Fort Worth."

That's a falsehood—she was only separated at 19—but I notice that Davis has often found ways to avoid it. Davis's campaign site claims, in a lawyerly way, that "by 19, she was on her way to becoming a single mother, working two jobs just to make ends meet." This hasn't been adjusted since the Slater piece; the language was the same one month ago. In a glowing Today show profile cited by Slater, Maria Shriver said of Davis that "by 19, she was getting divorced and living in a mobile home park."

OK, so Davis emphasizes the year that she decided she was in a failing marriage, and de-emphasizes when the divorce was final. Erick Erickson, who has led a charge on this part of the story, emphasizes that the false version appeared in a "sworn testimony," that in the same testimony she underrated by a year how old she was when her parents were divorced, and that "a Harvard educated lawyer should know the difference between separation and semantics." I defer to my Double X colleagues to discuss how much a female politician should have to answer for fudging her age.

The rest of the "blurring" is much more loaded. The story of Jeff Davis making "six figures" and paying much of Davis' tuition—then getting divorced—is simply emasculating. Jeff recalls that Davis moved out when his final check cleared. "It was ironic,” he tells Slater. “I made the last payment, and it was the next day she left." In her response to the Slater piece, Wendy Davis has only responded to "attacks on the personal story of my life as a single mother who worked hard to get ahead."

The Republican response to this can work on two levels. It can first respond as the Greg Abbott campaign has—accusing Davis of "systematically deceiving" voters, when the distortions were arguably minor. On the sub rosa level, it can hope that voters think differently about a single mother who left her husband once she was done paying for law school. Obviously any Republican who leads with that is going to generate a backlash—but it can be part of the undernews.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?

Science

“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.

Politics

The Right to Run

If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 6:30 PM The Tragedies That Have Shaped Canada's Gun Politics
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 4:10 PM Skinny Mark Wahlberg Goes for an Oscar: The First Trailer for The Gambler
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.