The embellished life of Wendy Davis
Today’s political scandal involves the discovery that Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for governor of Texas, has significantly embellished her biography, which – along with her dogged determination to ensure that certain other peoples’ biographies are kept extremely short – is pretty much all she has going for her. Some of her historical revisions are fairly minor, but some big things she hasn’t been eager to talk about are eye-catching.
The U.S. media, which has labored mightily to make Davis iconic, is fumbling with its notepads and microphones in embarrassed silence. Maybe they’ll figure out a way to tie these revelations into the one story they really do care about at the moment. I can hear it now: “Tonight, Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is fending off accusations that her official bio includes a number of inaccuracies… a story that reminds many of the questions swirling around New Jersey governor Chris Christie and the possibility that he has been less than honest when discussing his role in the closure of several lanes of traffic…”
The UK Daily Mail, on the other hand, lays into Davis with gusto:
Wendy Davis’ attempt to build her campaign to become the first Democratic Texas governor since Ann Richards in 1995 around her personal story of success against the odds has experienced somewhat of a hiccup – after it emerged that some of the facts have been misstated.
Speaking in a recent federal lawsuit she said that she ‘got divorced by the time she was 19 years old… after I got divorced, I lived in a mobile home park in southeast Fort Worth’.
It turns out that she was in fact 21 when she got divorced from a man called Frank Underwood and only lived in the mobile home for a few months.
She gave her age at the time of her divorce incorrectly under oath, as well, during testimony in a redistricting lawsuit. It seems a bit of a stretch to classify that as “perjury,” since it wasn’t material to the case, and she wouldn’t be the first person who was simply mistaken about her exact age when recalling long-ago events, although divorce at such a young age is an event one might think would be seared into memory with greater accuracy.
And that’s the problem here: she’s taken the true story of her life and twisted it into something more politically useful, with the false version now “seared” into her mind. This is the part that shines an especially unattractive light on her candor:
She has also blurred the funding of her education.
Her official website states that she attended Texas Christian University ‘with the help of academic scholarships, student loans, and state and federal grants’ and went on to become ‘the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, graduated first in her class, and went on to Harvard Law School’.
All that is true, but what’s omitted is the significant financial contribution her wealthy husband, lawyer Jeff Davis, made.
He helped pay her Harvard tuition fees, even taking out a loan to do so.
Even if you’re inclined to cut her some slack about remembering her age, it’s clear mendacity for her to concoct a hardscrabble story about her self-made educational career and forget to mention that her lawyer husband paid for a big chunk of it.
Jeff Davis did more than just take out a loan, according to the Dallas Morning News:
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.
“It was ironic,” Jeff recalls in the Dallas Morning News story. “I made the last payment [on her Harvard Law loan], and it was the next day she left.” I think he’s using the word “ironic” in the Alanis Morrisette sense.
For the record, Jeff Davis still speaks fairly well of Wendy, but in the process he delivers a pretty good epitaph for her political ambitions:
“A lot of what she says is true,” he said. “When she was 21, it became a little easier for her. The first 21 years were about working one, two and three jobs, trying to get through, raising a kid, driving an old Toyota pickup truck that was the smallest you could find.
“She got a break,” Jeff Davis said. “Good things happen, opportunities open up. You take them; you get lucky. That’s a better narrative than what they’re trying to paint.”
I can already see the campaign buttons… WENDY DAVIS: A LOT OF WHAT SHE SAYS IS TRUE.
Davis is manipulating the details of her biography in small ways, but the goal is to create an entirely false impression. It’s easy to understand why she redacted the details that don’t paint her in a flattering light. It’s the sort of thing humdrum empty-suit career politicians with big ambitions do. But that’s not what Wendy Davis has been presenting herself to the people of Texas as. Her supporters will probably now attempt to paint the people who pointed out her misrepresentations and omissions as a bunch of big “War on Women” meanies. Critics will wonder if a propensity for deception when it’s not even necessary is something they want in a governor.
Update: Daniel Greenfield at FrontPage goes there: “Wendy Davis Heroically Cheated On Her Husband, Stayed With Him Till He Paid Off Her Student Loans.” Adultery was indeed cited in Jeff Davis’ initial divorce filing, but was not mentioned in the final court decree.
Update: It would be wise not to underestimate the degree of anger real hardscrabble single moms feel upon learning that Wendy Davis falsely presented herself as one of them. As for this whole business of building a career off your biography, maybe the real point of this story is that Democrats are running the wrong Davis…
if a great life story is what matters in politics, it’s wendy davis’ ex-husband who should be running for governor.
— David Harsanyi (@davidharsanyi) January 20, 2014
Update: Wendy Davis is in full meltdown mode, absurdly claiming that the Dallas Morning News reporter who detonated her biographical exaggerations, Wayne Slater, is working as an agent for her Republican opponent, Greg Abbott. Slater responded, “I talked to no – zero – Abbott people. They saw the story this morning when you did.”
Davis is working up precisely the poor-little-me “War on Women” defense I suspected she would. Based on the Texas women I’m acquainted with, I don’t think it’s going to work terribly well.
Also, DMN reporter Wayne Slater did nothing more complicated than approach some people who knew Davis – primarily her ex-husband Jeff – and ask about the details of the official biography the candidate has been pushing hard as one of her major campaign tactics. How come nobody else in the media, including the national outlets that bestow fawning coverage on Davis as a new icon of feminism, ever thought to do that? Instead of accusing Slater of secretly working as a hit man for the Republicans, it’s more accurate to say that the rest of the media has been working as volunteers for the Davis campaign.
Update: It looks like Davis made some other inaccurate statements in the sworn testimony where she incorrectly gave her age at the time of her divorce. She also misrepresented her age at the time of her parents’ divorce, and incorrectly stated that her mother did not receive child support. She later changed her story about the child support and said her father eventually stopped paying it, rather than claiming it was never given at all.
She was young when these events occurred, so she could have been honestly mistaken about the details. On the other hand, if you’re going to run for high office – or testify in court, under oath – doesn’t it make sense to do a few minutes of research and get everything straight? At best, she looks careless, as she did when reporters discovered she couldn’t answer some basic questions about the abortion restrictions she became famous for opposing, and claimed not to know who abortion monster Kermit Gosnell was. That’s not a desirable attribute for a governor.
I’ve seen some buzz online about how Jeff Davis took out a restraining order against Wendy, and the court officially ordered her not to drink or use drugs within 24 hours of seeing her children. The restraining order looks to be an embarrassing matter of fact, but I wouldn’t read too much into the order against drinking and drugs, which – based on what I’ve seen so far – looks to have been routine legal language, not based on any specific accusations of substance abuse.