Rick Perry should apologize to Wendy Davis

Story highlights

  • Ruben Navarrette: The latest dust-up in Texas is about women's reproductive rights
  • Navarrette: You can disagree with a political opponent without getting personal
  • He says Rick Perry's comments about Wendy Davis were condescending and rude
  • Navarrette: Now women have to assert control over their own life stories

Once again, the eyes of the nation are upon Texas.

When it comes to political news and the occasional shenanigan, our second most populous state always seems to come in first.

The latest dust-up in the Lone Star State is about women's reproductive rights. The Democratic minority last week stopped a bill being pushed by the Republican majority that would have shut down most of the state's abortion clinics and banned abortion in the state after 20 weeks.

But the ruckus is also about saying the wrong thing in the wrong way, and coming off like a jerk in the process. It's about etiquette and character, and how intensely unlikable a politician can become when he is running low on both.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Likability counts for a lot in politics. Voters often make choices about which candidate to support based on whether we can relate to them or feel comfortable around them.

Meanwhile, a lot of Americans feel uncomfortable about late-term abortion. It's a barbaric procedure that opponents consider infanticide. It's also where many people like me, who are pro-choice, draw the line.

The Democrats' victory in the legislature is credited to Sen. Wendy Davis, who staged an 11-hour filibuster to push the debate past the stroke of midnight and the end of a special session.

The victory was short-lived. Gov. Rick Perry called a second special session to allow Republican legislators more time to get the legislation passed and onto his desk, where he is eager to sign it.

Showdown over abortion in Texas
Showdown over abortion in Texas


    Showdown over abortion in Texas


Showdown over abortion in Texas 01:41
Davis: Perry has demeaned his office
Davis: Perry has demeaned his office


    Davis: Perry has demeaned his office


Davis: Perry has demeaned his office 02:03

This high-stakes game of Texas Hold 'em could well be a preview of the 2014 matchup for the state's top job.

At one end of the table sits Davis. A rising star in the Democratic Party who represents Fort Worth, she has long been thought to be interested in running for governor. Now, thanks to Republican attempts to shut her down, she has an issue. The campaign ad writes itself: "Davis bravely stood up to the Republican majority, and backed them down."

At the other end, you'll find Perry. I wrote for the Dallas Morning News for five years. And I know this much: The governor has always been a paradox. One on one, he's very effective. He's charming and personable, and easy to relate to. But when he steps into his public persona, as in debates or at press conferences, he becomes less likable. Out goes the class president, and in comes the schoolyard bully.

It was the latter that showed up when Perry addressed the National Right to Life conference in Grapevine, Texas, near Dallas, a few days after Davis' filibuster. Obviously still smarting from the setback, Perry fired off these condescending remarks:

"Who are we to say that children born in the worst of circumstances can't grow to live successful lives? In fact, even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She was the daughter of a single woman. She was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate. It is just unfortunate that she hasn't learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters."

Katy, bar the door. Perry's comments were rude, presumptuous and highly inappropriate. There are plenty of ways to disagree with a political opponent and make a point without getting personal and dredging up details of her personal life -- and in this case, her mother's personal life.

Perry as much as suggested that Davis should be more sympathetic to unborn babies because, given her life's circumstance, her mother might have had an abortion and Davis wouldn't be here.

During an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation," Davis was asked to respond. Here's what she said:

"Well, what went through my mind was that that was a terribly personal thing to say. And, of course, I've been in the political arena for some time. It takes a lot to offend me. But what I was offended about was the statement that it makes on behalf of women throughout the state of Texas. I think it showed disregard for the fact that we all, we each, own our own personal history. We make choices and -- and have the opportunity to take chances that present themselves to us. What this is about is making sure that women across the state of Texas have the same opportunity to make those choices and have the same chances that I had."

Davis got it right. In the abortion debate, women have long insisted that they have the right to control their bodies. Now do they have to take the next step and assert control over their life stories?

It looks like, in Texas, the answer is yes. Women do need to reassert control over their life stories. Otherwise, others -- including elected officials -- will try to take over those narratives to serve their own purposes. That's what Perry did to Davis, and it reflected badly on him. He won't apologize. But he should.

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