February 14, 2014

#WendyDavis perpetuates American mythology

Houston's alt-weekly, the Press, has a short but sweet take on Robert Draper's NYT Mag piece on Wendy Davis, which I blogged about in discussing her "packaging" as a candidate, as well as Wayne Slater's original Dallas Morning News piece which "deconstructed" some of her campaign bio.

The Press's Hair Balls blog gets this exactly right:
But what perhaps is most pernicious about Davis's rags-to-riches, pulled myself up by my bootstraps political bio fiction is this: it perpetuates the myth of the American dream, that all it takes is a little elbow grease and some pluck and you can make it. But this just isn't true: economic mobility in the United States hasn't changed in 50-plus years and our income inequality is closer to that of Jamaica and Argentina than it is other Western nations.

So Davis didn't make it because she just wanted it more or was willing to make those sacrifices. She had a wealthy benefactor who made her path much easier. Davis's cognitive dissonance probably prevents her from admitting this, but that's her real bio. All this does is make her not that much different from any other narcissistic politician, Democrat or Republican.
Bingo. It's not sexist or anything else to point that out, and it doesn't belittle issues of working women and working mothers.

The more I've seen of Davis, the more and more I peg her as an Obama-type neoliberal, and this is another brick in the wall. If anything, economic mobility has declined in the last 25 or so years under presidents of both parties, albeit less under Democrats.

Now, governors can do less about that than senators, let alone presidents.

But, Davis can stop feeding a myth. She won't, of course. But she can.

That said, this myth is a bedrock cornerstone of American exceptionalism, and since she already has bought into Texas exceptionalism lock, stock and barrel, she won't change.

The myth?

To riff on Marx, economic mobility is the capitalist opiate for the American masses.

And, that's probably the problem with and for her campaign.

Hispanics in the Valley, even if they were minded to vote, have probably seen some of these same issues themselves. It's one thing to denounce Greg Abbott for calling the Valley a third-world country. It's another thing to face the Valley's reality, how it undercuts American and Texas exceptionalism, and be honest about how much heavy lifting is really needed to really change that.

Both conservatives and neoliberals seem to overlook, or deliberately ignore, the role of luck in American life. Well, you can ignore it all you want, but it's still real.

John Lee Hooker sure as hell knew that:

Unfortunately, John Lee Hooker's dead and unable to run for governor of Texas.

But, politicians want to pretend, in a nation of 310 million or a state of nearly 30 million, both with great income inequality, that this is a piece of cake.

I mean, seriously, had Wendy Underwood not been lucky enough that Jeff Russell was on the board of directors of her dad's theater (and perhaps helped keep it from going belly-up), we the political public may well never have heard of Wendy Davis today. There are thousands and thousands of second-marriage mothers who may be smart enough for Harvard Law or Wharton School of Business who marry decent enough husbands, but ones without the money to send them to Harvard, or the social connections to get them started in politics afterward. Or they may be smart enough, but from an epigenetic inheritance of anxiety, not be comfortable at Harvard, or not comfortable taking a risk on Harvard loans.

And, that relates to the second half of Davis' luck. Maybe she goes to Harvard, and doesn't have to worry too much about loans, due to family money of some sort. But, she has some loans.  And, her hubby, while having a few dinero, made that money as an on-the-edge dentist. He does dentistry and makes a good but not fabulous living. And, he doesn't know any politicians, or law firms. Especially if a Davis finishes in the lower half of Harvard, she might not land in the law firm she did, even if she eventually found it boring.

The United States as a nation owes far more to luck than exceptionalism, after all. Europeans got lucky that Native Americans had no immunity to smallpox, measles and other infectious diseases. African ancestors of Mr. Hooker didn't have guns, so were easily enslaved (albeit usually by other Africans first). And, oil was discovered in America ready for drilling in a culture more ready to use it than Ottoman Turkey or minor Arab sheikdoms.

As far as academia, this is why Ph.D.s, if not J.D.s, do wind up driving taxis and other things.

Unfortunately, the Texas Green party continues to sit on its ass.


PDiddie said...

That was a really good piece by TerBeek, and you're spot on here as well.

Gadfly said...

Well, I see stuff on your blog and news feed that occasionally catches my eye, especially since Lefty Blogs effed up a few weeks ago.

After that, near the end, John Lee popped into my brain.

PDiddie said...

LeftyBlogs died as a website a year or two ago, and why that feed continued so long is an imponderable.

Speaking of that, the B-4-U-Eat Houston website passed away this week, and that motherfucker was 23 years old. A BBS before the Internet existed. Talk about sad...