Wendy Davis, Classic Texas Four-Flusher

Wendy Davis, Classic Texas Four-Flusher
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Near the end of "The Texan," a 1918 work of pulp fiction by James B. Hendryx, we find our hero "cursing himself unmercifully" for his poor judgment—guiding a young lady into dangerous country where they've run out of water.

“This is all your fault, you dammed four-flusher!” the Texan says under his breath. “You low-lived skunk, you! You think you’re fit to marry her, do you? Well, you ain’t. You ain’t fit to be mentioned in the same language she is.”

The author was a grandson of William Henry Harrison. In President Harrison’s day—and in James Hendryx’s—Texas voted Democratic. Today, it’s a dependable Republican “red” state, but the dream of Lone Star liberals is to turn back the clock. In this quest, they’ve pinned their hopes on ambitious state Sen. Wendy Davis, who galloped onto the national scene last year with a one-woman filibuster in defense of abortion.

These days, The Texan doesn’t need a man to come to the little lady’s rescue or lead her out of the wilderness. Today, The Texan is a woman herself. In Wendy Davis’s case, it’s men that got her in this fix. She was a single mother, born into poverty to another single mom, this one with a sixth-grade education. Like her own mother, Wendy was abandoned as a teenager. But she aimed to overcome all that. On the strength of academic scholarships and student loans—and her own brains and grit—she traded the trailer park for Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School. Next stop: the governor’s mansion in Austin.

That’s the story line, anyway, and it’s real bootstraps stuff. But is it true?

Some Texas journalists gingerly began asking such questions, among them Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, the first to write about it, and Jon Tilove of the Austin American-Statesman. Although neither reporter phrased it this way—their gentlemanliness would have passed muster in a James Hendryx novel—it turns out that part of Wendy Davis’s tale is fictionalized and the rest is told selectively.

She was divorced when she was 21, not 19, which wouldn’t matter, except maybe for the fact that she testified to it in federal court. But single teen mother fits so much better in a headline. It also wouldn’t be worth mentioning that she really only lived in a trailer for a few months—if she had actually been raised in poverty. Wendy’s family was middle-class, it turns out. Other details about her upbringing were also fudged. Her parents divorced, true, but her dad remained in her life. As for her mother’s supposed sixth-grade education, that was hard to square with recently unearthed yearbook photos of her in high school.

Wendy’s own marital history isn’t the feminist saga embraced by the media. After divorcing her first husband, she married a friend of her father’s, a man 13 years her senior named Jeffrey Davis. She had a child with him and then left both her daughters—Davis’s and her first husband’s—in his care while she went off to school.

Jeff Davis paid her tuition at TCU and Harvard—cashing in his retirement savings to do so—but the couple divorced. Jeffrey cited adultery in his original divorce petition. The final decree makes no mention of that, but a judge awarded Jeffrey custody of their daughter. The other one elected to stay with him.

“It was ironic,” Wendy’s second ex-husband told Wayne Slater. “I made the last [tuition] payment, and it was the next day she left.”

Such events are the vagaries of modern life. As Slater pointed out in his tender treatment in the Dallas Morning News, a public person’s biography is often more complicated than the version advertised to the world. If Wendy Davis had just copped to this, her omissions and dodges would have seemed human.

But that’s not how she acted. In response, she and her campaign team lashed out nastily, repeatedly asserting that the revelations were dirty tricks by her Republican opponent Greg Abbott.

“We’re not surprised by Greg Abbott’s campaign attacks on the personal story of my life as a single mother who worked hard to get ahead,” Davis said in a written statement. In an interview with a Texas reporter, Davis called Abbott “completely out of touch with the reality of the struggles that a young woman like I faced.”

There was much more of this from Davis and her surrogates, who couldn’t stop talking about Davis’s supposed “struggles” and Abbott’s supposed callousness toward them. A little of this goes a long way, especially since Greg Abbott is a paraplegic. His “struggles” from having his spine crushed at age 26 dwarf those of having a well-to-do husband put you through Harvard Law School while taking care of your children.

Moreover, the countercharges were dishonest. It wasn’t all that long ago that Wayne Slater’s tough coverage of Karl Rove endeared him to Texas Democrats. And Slater, who has a reputation for probity, stated flatly that he spoke to no one associated with Abbott for his piece on Davis.

In poker, a four-flusher is someone who claims to have a flush—five cards of the same suit—and then shows only four of them when called, hiding the fifth, non-suited card. Wendy Davis’s response when exposed as a four-flusher is to insist the hole card was true—even when everyone sees it isn’t.

As a chaser to such deceit, the campaign added a gaffe in the form of a Wendy Davis statement that Abbott never “walked a day in my shoes.” One doesn’t have to wonder how liberals would respond if George W. Bush had said that about a paraplegic opponent. And then, a surreptitious videotape began circulating in conservative circles purportedly showing Davis backers laughing about Abbott being in a wheelchair.

That’s not as surprising as it first seems. Wendy Davis came to prominence when she filibustered legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require abortion mills to meet the health and safety standards of hospitals, and ensure that the physicians in charge of abortion clinics have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

The impetus for this legislation came about in the wake of the murder conviction of Kermit Gosnell, the Pennsylvania doctor who routinely performed late-term abortions, and killed babies who managed to survive the procedure. Many of his patients were grievously injured, too, and at least one died. All of them were women. 

Correction: An earlier version of this column erroneously implied that Wendy Davis began a new relationship while still married and studying at Harvard Law School.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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