A Wendy Davis run for Texas governor may be just what the Democratic party needs as it gears up for the 2014 midterm elections.
And that’s not just because the pro-choice state senator’s June filibuster –11 hours of talk in which she couldn’t lean on her desk, have a drink of water, cede the microphone or change the subject (she was penalized just for putting on a back brace) — was so much more hardcore than Republican Ted Cruz’s recent “Green Eggs and Ham” reading gabfest in the U.S. Senate.
It’s not just because her own personal story – an absent father, a sixth-grade-educated mother, a teen pregnancy, followed by life as a single mom in a mobile home, then community college and, at last, Harvard Law School – gives the party that backs her impeccable “real people” credibility.
It’s a whole lot more simple than that.
Blonde, strikingly pretty, outspoken and female, Davis is, to put it bluntly, invaluable as bait. In her short tenure on the national scene, she has elicited an almost Pavlovian response from anti-woman blowhards.
First, Fox News commentator Erick Erickson called Davis “Abortion Barbie.” Then, a twitter poster, @jefflegal, expressed his support for a gubernatorial bid by the Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott by dismissing Davis as “Retard Barbie”—a rather artless insult that might not have gotten much attention, had the attorney general not tweeted back, “Jeff, thanks for your support.” And just last month, Abbott’s top political advisor, Dave Carney, stepped into the Davis-bashing fray again by tweeting an article from a conservative Texas blog that promised in its headline to explain “why Wendy Davis is too Stupid to be Governor.”
There’s every reason to expect that, as a misogyny magnet, Davis, whom The New York Times has described as an Austin “fashion icon,” will be the gift that keeps on giving all through the upcoming campaign season. Her hair, her clothes, her pink sneakers; the fact that she’s unmarried; the fact that abortion is the issue that brought her to national prominence—all these things sexualize her to a degree that’s unusual for female politicians (as it any accident that Sarah Palin was always dripping with kids?) and they open her up to a very specific, and very ugly, form of woman-hate.
The more hits Davis takes, the better is will be for the Democrats. It was, after all, a consistent pattern of gender-based disrespect that helped land Democrats their 2012 election victories in the U.S. Senate and the presidency. A long pile-up of Republican insults to women’s dignity, particularly in the area of reproductive rights, led President Obama to win the women’s vote by a 12-point margin. Women don’t always vote as a unified block; they’re by no means unanimous in their support for abortion rights, or for any of the pro-family social policies that tend, unhelpfully, to be classed together as “women’s issues.” But they have, in recent years, tended to come together in a common understanding when the “yuck factor” in politics – the macho posturing, the questionable remarks that cut away at women’s hard-won public dignity – just gets to be too much.
Abbott, sensitized by outrage that followed his Twitter thank-you, has tried to backpedal, tweeting his supporters to “Stay positive. ” The admonition, however @Barbie-worthy, hasn’t done much to mollify his critics. The Republican party’s effort to rebrand itself to women doesn’t seem to be working out too well, either. A new United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll just this week found that 33 percent of the women surveyed felt that the party had drifted even further away from them since the 2012 election. Only 14 percent of women—and just 11 percent of women younger than 50—said that Republicans had moved closer in perspective to them.
Message: we Barbies are no dummies. You can’t change a legacy of policies that insult and hurt women through the power of positive thinking.