No one in America likes a success story that involves the main character receiving help or the benefit of some good luck. No, America likes a story of self-made success, pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, and all without accepting a handout. This is why Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is facing some potentially serious fallout because of discrepancies in her stated biography and facts.
An article from The Dallas Morning News revealed that Davis’s story of being a single teen-mom raising her daughter in a trailer park is, at best, disingenuous. She was 20 when her and her first husband separated and she only spent a few months in the family mobile home until she moved in with her mother.
Also clarified is the role her current ex-husband, Jeff Davis, played in her rise to the top. Jeff Davis literally mortgaged his future to help Wendy Davis pay for her final year at Harvard Law School. After the loans were paid off, the Davises divorced. In the Morning News article, Jeff Davis says, “I made the last payment and it was the next day she left.” While removed from the final decree, Jeff Davis’s initial filing also cited infidelity on her part.
Naturally, the conservative backlash in the media and online was very harsh toward Wendy Davis. Yet, the question remains if what Davis is facing is typical electoral scrutiny or if she is a victim of sexism, being criticized for things a male politician would never have to defend.
First there is the adultery claim. Countless male politicians, often those who’d done quite a bit of good for the country, have had their careers ruined by scandal involving the perception of adultery. Practically speaking, it has no relevance to a person’s effectiveness in office, but remains important to morality voters.
Secondly, and much more crucial, is the role her second ex-husband played in helping her get where she is today. If anything the actual narrative is much more supportive of the Democratic platform than what Davis’s campaign has gone with already. Davis would certainly not be where she is today if she hadn’t had the good fortune to marry Jeff Davis, who supported her and—after their separation—won the role of custodial parent, leaving Davis free to wholly commit to her political work.
Rather than admitting that the opportunities she’s had are not available to everyone—thus underscoring the stacked-deck view of opportunity shared by many progressives—she decided to adopt the Republican narrative of success instead of blatantly rejecting it for a flawed premise. In a sense, her campaign’s preferred narrative goes against the larger Democratic argument—that average Americans need more help than they get.
Frankly, this may say more about the type of political advisors Davis has surrounded herself with than her individual character. For what it’s worth, both her ex-husband and (now adult) children support her run for office and believe she is the best candidate. She stood on the floor of the Texas legislature for 12 hours, which at the very least shows commitment to her beliefs. If this story ultimately hurts her run for governor, it will say more about how politicians choose to present themselves to voters than gender in politics.