Navarrette: Do Wendy Davis' choices matter?

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis smiles as she heads

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis smiles as she heads to speak to reporters after an education roundtable meeting in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. (Credit: AP / LM Otero)

Being a liberal means never having to be consistent. 

Take the idea that women should make their own choices about family and career and it is no one else's business what they choose to do. 

That sounds good. I just can't believe it's coming from liberals who have never been particularly skilled at resisting the urge to criticize women over the choices they make -- if those women are conservative Republicans. 


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In the 1992 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton defended her choice to pursue a high-powered legal career by taking a swipe at the June Cleaver crowd. "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas," she said. "But what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life."

In 2008, CNN's John Roberts asked correspondent Dana Bash if Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin shouldn't be spending more time at home caring for a newborn son with Down syndrome instead of running on the Republican ticket? Bash called her colleague on the carpet for asking such a sexist question, one that would never be put to a man running for office.

And in 2012, Democratic adviser Hilary Rosen went on the attack against Ann Romney, insisting that the wife of the 2012 presidential nominee -- who kept up a home and raised five boys while her husband was building companies and amassing wealth -- "never worked a day in her life." President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama both condemned those condescending remarks. 

So much for respecting women's choices. 

Yet, this kind of respect is exactly what some liberals are calling for in Texas, where Democrats are now circling the wagons around embattled gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. They hope the state senator -- who last year put on her sneakers and filibustered an anti-abortion bill in the Legislature -- will help turn the red state blue. 

A change of hue might be good for Texas. During the five years that I wrote for The Dallas Morning News, I saw numerous examples of bad government tied to the fact that Republicans controlled the governor's mansion, every other statewide office, and the Legislature. There has to be competition in politics, or it's a road map to irrelevance. 

Yet, Davis might not be the strongest candidate to put Texas in the Democratic column. Texans value authenticity, and Davis might not live up to her campaign literature. The narrative of her life story that her handlers peddle to reporters and campaign donors contains several inaccuracies. 

The legend goes that Davis was a divorced teenage mother living in a trailer who worked her way through college and on to Harvard Law School through an inspiring combination of smarts and grit. Davis has raised millions of dollars on the strength of that biography, which she repeats in speeches.

She even got the attention of a book publisher who wants her to write her life story. 

Good for her. But which version will she write?

According to a recent article in The Dallas Morning News, Davis was 21 and out of her teens when she divorced. Once she separated, she lived for a few months in a mobile home owned by her family before moving with her daughter into an apartment. As for working her way through Harvard, it was Davis' second husband -- Jeff Davis, with whom she had a second child -- who footed much of the bill for tuition by, among other things, cashing in his 401(k). Her now ex-husband even took care of her two daughters in Texas while she attended law school more than 1,200 miles away. 

It's that last part that gets us back to the touchy subject of women and choices. How is this for a biography? Davis chose attending a faraway law school over raising her kids. This won't go over well with some Texans, who just might conclude that motherhood isn't her strong suit and that ambition got the better of her. This might make her less likable.

Davis' daughters, 25-year-old Dru and 31-year-old Amber, are trying to counter that impression. Both wrote open letters released by the Davis campaign in which they insisted that -- as Dru put it -- Davis "always shared equally in the care and custody of my sister and me." Amber called "ludicrous" any suggestions to the contrary.

No matter who is correct, Davis' defenders insist that she had every right to make the personal decisions she did, and that her critics need to back off.

That's good advice. Let's hope that liberals follow it the next time they feel the urge to criticize a woman on the right for the choices that she's made.

Ruben Navarrette is a nationally syndicated columnist for The Washington Post.

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