Davis-for-governor boom a sign of the times

State Sen. Wendy Davis’ high-profile role in the June dust-up over abortion legislation evidently created a groundswell of support for the notion that Davis should run for governor next year. Long ago and far away, an excitable young newspaper photographer of our acquaintance had an expression – an interjection, really – that he employed when being bombarded with information faster than he could process it: Wait once! Several other expressions also come to mind: Timeout! Whoa, horse! Hold on, pardner! And perhaps most appropriate in the case of the budding Davis-for-governor boomlet: Get a grip, people! That last one, especially, might seem unduly contentious, yet our annoyance is directed not at Davis’ possible political aspirations but at the runaway media train that has anointed her savior of Texas Democrats and would-be leader of all Texans on the strength of an 11-hour filibuster that in terms of lasting legislative significance will likely turn out to be the equivalent of spitting into the wind. Tenacity has long been Davis’ strong suit. She’s a fighter, no stranger to the uphill battle, and in this most recent fight she tackled one of the toughest issues of our lifetime and also went head-to-head against the formidable Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. But moving so quickly from fledgling state senator to gubernatorial contender is too much, too soon. Davis may, in fact, be a rising star in the Democratic Party and could well be destined for higher office. But the former Fort Worth city councilwoman has been a controversial figure since the earliest days of her political career. Last fall, she was hard-pressed to hold on to her state Senate seat, and her appearance on any election ballot is guaranteed to inspire frenzied opposition from a significant segment of the population. In fact, she has drawn as much enmity as she has love during the past week and a half; there are people who had never heard of her before the filibuster who now will be dedicated to her defeat for office at any level. Beyond the current abortion rights battle, her statewide political credentials are less than well-grounded at this point. Her legislative career, for all practical purposes, has just begun. She has an impressive personal biography but no extensive record of memorable accomplishments as a lawmaker. That last point is crucial because what we’re really talking about is not whether Davis could win a Democratic primary, or even a general election for governor. As Barack Obama has demonstrated on a national scale, anything can happen when Americans go to the polls. But running for governor is one thing; being governor is another story. We admire her fighting spirit and we understand the excitement she created with her filibuster, but it’s troubling to think that Davis’ meteoric rise to gubernatorial status is based in large part on public appreciation for her ability to stand and talk for hours on end without a bathroom break. It was certainly an extraordinary achievement, in its way, and we’ll presume to guess that few if any recent governors could have matched her stamina. But then, they didn’t have to; such feats have nothing to do with being governor. Our purpose here is not to pass judgment on Davis’ potential viability as a candidate for governor or to dissect her qualifications for higher office. There will be ample opportunity for such conversations, pro and con, if and when she runs. Our concern about the Davis-for-governor bandwagon is the flimsiness of the bandwagon’s underpinnings: A state senator barely into her second term excites the news media and lights a social media bonfire by staging a late-night talkathon, and without knowing the first thing about her or her record, supposedly sensible people immediately want to propel her into the governor’s office. This is, sad to say, the tenor of our times. A politician or media personality ignites a spark of interest by grabbing a moment in the spotlight and we suddenly see that individual as a superhero, able to leap tall buildings and vanquish political gridlock in a single bound. Does it matter whether these folks are qualified, or even if they are what they seem to be in the splash of instant fame? Of course not. We’re in love. We’re razzle-dazzled, as the shady lawyer sang in Chicago. It’s how Barack Obama became president. History will decide how that worked out. Maybe it was always this way. A politician had a big moment, caught a wave, rode it to higher office. But it usually took longer than 11 hours.