Self-Inflicted Wound

« October 2014  

Memo to Wendy Davis: SIGH.

I suppose it was always a long shot. Texas legislator leaps to prominence with a heartfelt, media-friendly, and ultimately futile filibuster of the latest restrictive abortion law in Texas. Taking the attention and notoriety, she launches a campaign for governor and, harkening back to the days of Ann Richards, puts a female Democrat in charge of Texas again.

Would have been nice, I suppose. But even before last week, Davis was trailing in the polls to partially-paralyzed attorney general Greg Abbott. And then she put out a new ad that completely misreads how political ads and dogwhistles work in a way so shocking it will probably sink her campaign for good.

The thirty-second ad goes out of its way to mention how much money Abbott might get from lawsuits around the accident that left him paralyzed, and then accuses him of working to prevent other people from using the legal system to receive compensation for their own accidents.

Which, as political points go, is weak but valid, so they decided to punch it up by putting their text over a black field with an empty wheelchair on it.

Which means we need to take a brief detour to explain how a certain style of political advertising works. Let's say you want to make an ad that reaches people who hate black people. What you do is, you put images of scary black people up on the screen, and then add text that talks about how your opponent wants to help those people. The text itself is relatively innocuous to maintain plausible deniability, but the subtext is the real message. It's effective, because people focus on the subtext.

Davis' ad would thus be very effective if there was a large subset of Texas undecided voters who were uncomfortable with the idea of a governor in a wheelchair. The text of Davis' ad is aboutt hypocrisy, but the subtext is "let's not have a guy in a wheelchair as the governor". Wendy Davis did not want people to focus on the subtext, but as I mentioned above, people focus on the subtext.

And all the plausible deniability in the world won't help you with this one, because a whole bunch of people who aren't actually offended by the subtext, including Abbott himself, can be SHOCKED, SHOCKED, I TELL YOU, that Wendy Davis would stoop to such a thing. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

“It’s her choice if she wants to attack a guy in a wheelchair. I don’t think it’s going to sell too well.” - Abbott, playing the game better than Davis.

This is, of course, opportunistic as fuck. I mean, he even went out of his way to make sure that the phrase "her choice" was in his response to the candidate best known for being pro-choice.

But Wendy Davis gave him exactly the opportunity where Abbott could claim she was "attacking a guy in a wheelchair" and have it not sound like playing the disabled card. He couldn't say that if she attacked him on taxes. But he can because she attacked him and showed a wheelchair.

And it doesn't help that the ad tries to have it both ways. Mentioning the exact number of millions Abbott could receive makes it sound like he doesn't deserve them, but then it calls him a hypocrite for stopping other people from getting similar judgments. If you're going to do that, for fuck's sake, support the right to sue for damages. Greg Abbot got duly compensated for an accident, and worked to stop other people from getting compensated. Take out the wheelchair. Done. Won't blow up in your face. Won't be a stupid move that even a Texas attorney general can judo back on you. Goddammit.

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