It's one thing to tack to the center to win election in a bitterly partisan state. It's another thing to give up the ghost on the very issue that vaunted you to electoral recognizability in the first place. Wendy Davis, onetime progressive Texas hero, appears to be diving headlong into that latter group.
For the past year, state Sen. Wendy Davis looked like Texas' great Democratic hope: a talented, driven woman standing up to conservative creeps in the inner sanctum of red-state red meat. She vaulted to fame—and became the object of furious right-wing sexism—after singlehandedly filibustering several draconian anti-abortion measures, which passed anyway, but parts of which were subsequently judged unconstitutional.
But her run for governor has led her to jettison progressive values over the side of her slow-moving campaign ship with every new incoming wave. The nadir of this downward opportunistic lurch appeared to have occurred last week, when Davis came out in favor of permitting Texans to openly pack heat, bringing her in line with the Lone Star State's gun-nuttery caucus.
What could be lower than that triangulation? How about selling out your No. 1 issue? Such is the apparent gist of her most recent interview with the Dallas Morning News—whose headline, "Wendy Davis backs 20-week abortion ban that defers to women," pretty much sums up the increasing cognitive hollowness of Davis' approach to campaigning for public office: OK, let's limit women's reproductive rights, but let's do it in a way that "defers" to them!
In the interview, Davis clarifies that her Alamo-like stand in the Texas Legislature last June was not principally to defend women's access to abortion, but to stress that women be respected, even as their rights be limited:
Davis, a Fort Worth senator and the likely Democratic nominee for governor, told The Dallas Morning News' editorial board that less than one-half of 1 percent of Texas abortions occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most of those were in cases where fetal abnormalities were evident or there were grave risks to the health of the woman.
"I would line up with most people in Texas who would prefer that that's not something that happens outside of those two arenas," Davis said.
But the Democrat said the state's new abortion law didn't give priority to women in those circumstances. The law allows for exceptions for fetal abnormalities and a threat to the woman's life, but Davis said those didn't go far enough.
"My concern, even in the way the 20-week ban was written in this particular bill, was that it didn't give enough deference between a woman and her doctor making this difficult decision, and instead tried to legislatively define what it was," Davis said.
Well, yes, that granular sort of defining tends to happen when legislatures get involved in uterine affairs.
Davis said she could have supported a bill that contained only a 20-week ban, but the law's restrictions on clinics and doctors have greatly curtailed access to the procedure in parts of Texas.
"It was the least objectionable," she said. "I would have and could have voted to allow that to go through, if I felt like we had tightly defined the ability for a woman and a doctor to be making this decision together and not have the Legislature get too deep in the weeds of how we would describe when that was appropriate."
Under "red herrings" in the dictionary, see this. See if you can follow the logic: Only a handful of abortions occur after 20 weeks, most of them tied to tests for fetal abnormalities that can only be performed after 20 weeks. And that's precisely why they need to be banned. Wait, what?
In fact, the new craze for 20-week bans is based on largely phony science and the privileging of an irrational emotional argument. Davis, in her capacity as a national leader on this issue, had a golden opportunity to call the ban exactly what it is: bullshit, a trivial waste of legislators' time and taxpayer money to do nothing more than brand abortion as a nasty business.
Davis chose another path.
Look, it's perfectly acceptable for a candidate for statewide office to, in Davis' words, "line up with most people in Texas," to favor mealy-mouthed restrictions on abortion as "the least objectionable" options in a state full of objectionable opinions. But this is not the progressivism that vaulted Davis into the national pantheon. This is not the progressivism that motivates awful political foes to label her an "abortion Barbie."
This, in fact, is not progressivism at all. It is a safe vote for the status quo with a "D" next to it. That anyone could consider this revolutionary is merely a testament to how fucked up Texas really is nowadays.
[Photo credit: AP]