Texas’s dexterous gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis this morning announced that she was henceforth to be known as a friend of those who, in the inimitably bemused words of the Associated Press, wish to carry a “six-shooter on the street . . . on their hip, in full view, while in public.” At this revelation, the cynics among us chuckled heartily.
Davis’s transition from moderate foe of the NRA to champion of the Second Amendment has been uncommonly swift. When she started out, she had no stated policy on firearms, but, as her backstory has crumbled ignominiously around her, she has started to drift inexorably rightward; first promising to expand the state’s concealed-carry regime if elected, then ensuring that she was seen carrying a shotgun and speaking like a cartoon character, and finally coming out for open carry — a position that, even in a place as independent as Texas, is rejected and disdained by the state Democratic party, by her own would-be lieutenant governor, and by the increasingly vocal anti–Second Amendment group, Moms Demand Action, the lattermost of which had expressed high hopes for her run.
As the Associated Press implied, the transition was a predictable one. “History,” the AP proposed,
suggests that Davis’ position is a pragmatic one. Former Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, vetoed a concealed handgun measure, but Republican George W. Bush made it a major campaign issue when he defeated Richards for governor in 1994. Texas passed its concealed handgun law the next year.
In other words: Why lose an election over what is likely an inevitability? Or, as one sweetly persistent Davis fan put it on Twitter today, “This issue would have put a huge Target on her. It did for GovRichards & she lost her 2nd term. I want Wendy to Win.”
It is wholly comprehensible that pragmatic Democratic activists do not wish to see their candidate torpedoed by an issue that is, in truth, of little practical consequence. Indeed, if supporters were not elevating the sentiment “I want Wendy to Win” above the minutiae of Texas’s gun politics, one might start to wonder what was wrong with them. And yet the shift is symptomatic of a general malleability that is becoming a liability. There is, after all, a point at which smartly avoiding controversy becomes counterproductive — nihilistic, even — and at which it indicates one’s having forgotten why one wanted power in the first place. Davis, alas, is beginning to flirt with that line, prompting the unavoidable question of what, precisely, she is offering that will recommend her to the public at large.
At the outset, the answer to this question was that Davis is running to publicize the alleged restrictions on abortion in her state, and to repeal the law that she spent eleven hours attempting to filibuster last summer. Is it any longer? Not really, no. Indeed, if one’s knowledge of Davis were sourced solely after her candidacy was announced, one would struggle to know that she is pro-choice at all. Jonah Goldberg correctly noted last week that we have become all-too accustomed to the friends of abortion flatly refusing to talk about their standpoint, and that it is now customary for advocates to fall back on euphemism and indignation. He is right: One could fill an entire library with examples of such obfuscation. Nevertheless, few advocates have gone so far as actually to say in public, “I am pro-life,” as Davis did in January. Nor, typically, do pro-choice politicians run away from their position in toto. It is presumably of considerable embarrassment to Davis’s early champions that nowhere on her campaign website is there a shred of evidence of the filibuster that brought her to national prominence, invited the praise of a president, and briefly convinced the kids at the Daily Kos that Texas might soon be turned blue. “Reproductive justice” apostles, are thou not a touch disheartened?
Davis’s omission is clearly not the product of an aversion to the word “filibuster,” for another, less famous performance is presented center-stage in her literature. “In 2011,” the “Education” section proclaims proudly, “Wendy filibustered a budget that cut over $5 billion from education funding and she has continued to fight tirelessly to restore that funding to education.”
Education being a priority that is certain to get heads nodding, so far, so good. And yet, on closer inspection, Davis doesn’t really seem to be that interested in “restoring funding” at all, preferring instead to stick to the platitudinal, boilerplate assurances on which politicians of all stripes have come to rely. “Texas families cannot thrive and we cannot sustain our economic growth if we don’t invest in the next generation of Texans,” her campaign website warns. As such, Davis “wants to ensure that “every young person has access to the same opportunities that she did and so our future generations can make Texas even better than it is today.” Okay, great. But, one might ask, “As opposed to what?”
The Dallas Morning News reports that Davis has criticized her opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, for “defending more than $5 billion in cuts the 2011 Legislature made to public schools,” a position that Abbott claims (rather conveniently, it should be said) was merely a “part of his job as attorney general.” But what is Davis’s alternative to this alleged betrayal? She’s not quite sure. Despite the professed passion for reform, the Morning News records, “Davis didn’t say how she would pay for her education proposals, but ruled out a tax increase.”