The narrative of Wendy Davis' life is a hot topic of late. A recent Dallas Morning News piece criticizes the gubernatorial candidate for lying under oath about being divorced at 19. (The newspaper points out she was actually 21.) Its author, veteran Texas political writer Wayne Slater, is also critical about the amount of time she spent in living in the trailer park.
According to the piece, it was only a few months and thus somehow negates the fact that she was a poor single mother living in a trailer park.
The DMN article makes multiple, thinly veiled criticisms of Wendy Davis as a wife and a mother for decisions she would never be criticized for if she were a man.
Although the New York Times published a piece that also pointed out that Davis was at least 20 when she split from her first husband, that article failed to pack the same punch as Slater's.
Perhaps the Times piece didn't garner as much attention because it didn't paint a portrait of Davis as a money-hungry, opportunistic sugar baby who rode her husband's money from the trailer park to Harvard to the state house.
Although he concedes that "there's no question Davis struggled financially" in her childhood, joining the workforce at 14 in order to help her mother, Slater still manages to portray Davis as an overly ambitious twentysomething, aggressively pursuing an older man after her first marriage disintegrated.
"A single mother working two jobs, she met Jeff Davis, a lawyer 13 years older than her, married him and had a second daughter," Slater writes.
From there, Jeff Davis is portrayed as a feeble stepping stone, an old man (he was an ancient 34 when they married) who existed to pay the bills and play nursemaid while Wendy Davis jetted off to Harvard Law School, leaving her two young daughters behind in Fort Worth:
Jeff Davis paid for her final two years at TCU. “It was community resources. We paid for it together,” Wendy Davis said.
When she was accepted to Harvard Law School, Jeff Davis cashed in his 401(k) account and eventually took out a loan to pay for her final year there.
“I was making really good money then, well over six figures,” he said. “But when you’ve got someone at Harvard, you’ve got bills to pay, you’ve got two small kids. The economy itself was marginal. You do what you have to do, no big deal.”
The daughters, then 8 and 2, remained with Jeff Davis in Fort Worth while Wendy Davis was at Harvard.
Jeff Davis is later quoted as saying he made the final payment to Harvard Law the day before his wife moved out of their home — an implication that Wendy Davis scoffs at. The article also points out numerous times that she gave up parental rights to her second daughter, Dru, during their divorce and used him to get her foot in the door at the Fort Worth City Council.
But perhaps the most damaging quote comes from an unnamed former colleague: “Wendy is tremendously ambitious,” he said, speaking only on condition of anonymity in order to give what he called an honest assessment. “She’s not going to let family or raising children or anything else get in her way.”
Articles like these are hardly new. If you're a woman in politics, you're either a power-hungry troll (Hilary) or a bouffant-rocking bimbo (Sarah). But Slater not only chastises Wendy Davis for being ruthlessly ambitious but also makes multiple, thinly veiled criticisms of her as a wife and a mother for decisions she would never be criticized for if she were a man.
In an attempt to make a valid point — that she fudged facts in order to craft a better political narrative — Slater crafted a "he said, she said" account told by former spouses, with an unnamed source providing the most powerful punch in the piece.
It remains to be seen just how much damage this will do to the Davis campaign, but they will undoubtedly re-examine the message she's touting. But the one of the mother who took the opportunity to go to a prestigious law school, open her own practice and make choices that ultimately worked for her family — that is one they should not abandon.