The Campaign to Brand Wendy Davis as a Hater of Disabled People

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 23 2014 1:28 PM

The Campaign to Brand Wendy Davis as a Hater of Disabled People

Wendy Davis heartlessly boasts that she has all 10 fingers.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The headline is a must-click: "The Vile Voice of Wendy Davis’ Supporters Ridiculing a Paraplegic." The substance is a post from Erick Erickson, who has become a one-man wrecking crew against the Wendy Davis campaign, and a link to a video from James O'Keefe's Project Veritas. O'Keefe's crew has been infiltrating/reporting on meetings of Battleground Texas, the independent group created by Obama veterans that is pretty obviously trying to elect Democrats with a voter registration campaign. Here, we are told, is evidence of the Davis network making fun of likely GOP gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott for using a wheelchair. (He was crippled when a tree branch fell on him decades ago.)

The video's actually a bit of mishmash—more than half of it consists of Battleground volunteers acting partisan, and the rest advances the "mocking a paraplegic hook." I don't think it delivers. The money quote, the one Erickson makes a meme out of, is: "He's in a wheelchair and we want to stand with Wendy." But that's not actually a quote from the video. The quote, from one unidentified volunteer, is:

I'm wondering how this is going to work out, because he's in a wheelchair and most of the slogans are "Stand With Wendy."

There's rueful laughter after the volunteer says that, but is it "ridicule"? This is a conversation that anyone strategizing to elect Davis was going to have, just as the Abbott campaign was going to strategize (hopefully without cameras in the room) about how to run against a woman without making gaffes. "Stand With [name of candidate]" is a common frame, used by Marco Rubio—only natural, isn't it, to wonder if it looks cruel when the opponent can't walk?

Two more wheelchair comments fill out the video. This one:

What I think is interesting is he's in a wheelchair but he has no sympathy for anyone or any way. He may have a personality disorder.

And this one:

He doesn't speak well, he isn't good looking, he doesn't have a good personality, and he's in a wheelchair.

Both are played without context, though the second quote is taken from the same angle as a video clip in which someone notes that people have called Davis "too stupid" to be governor. In private, Davis supporters are talking about the candidates' perceived strengths and weaknesses.

We can agree, I think, that the person citing the wheelchair is being an ass—the wheelchair, obviously, is no political problem at all. Just yesterday, National Review slammed Davis for saying that Abbott had never "walked a day in my shoes." That cliché wouldn't be interesting at all if Abbott could walk. Because he can't, it's supposed to be scandal. There'll be more of this, surely, as Republicans work to portray Davis as a cruel dummy.

UPDATE: Can't hurt that Charles C. Johnson, the reporter who thought a Daily Princetonian satire was real, also thinks that the fake "ad" Erickson created for this story is real.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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