Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Rick Perry should apologize to Wendy Davis

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
July 4, 2013 -- Updated 1636 GMT (0036 HKT)
State troopers look on as a group in Austin, Texas, protests a new state abortion law in July. Parts of the law were ruled unconstitutional on Monday, October 28 -- a day before they were scheduled to take effect. State troopers look on as a group in Austin, Texas, protests a new state abortion law in July. Parts of the law were ruled unconstitutional on Monday, October 28 -- a day before they were scheduled to take effect.
HIDE CAPTION
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
Controversial Texas abortion bill
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
>
>>
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

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

(CNN) -- 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.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT