Ethics Observations On Wendy Davis’s Controversial “Wheelchair Ad” Attacking Greg Abbott

1. The campaign of Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis has issued an attack ad directly referencing gubernatorial rival Greg Abbott’s partial paralysis, and includes the image of an empty wheelchair. Davis could claim—and will, if she hasn’t already–that  the implication that his use of a wheelchair argues against his qualifications to be governor is inadvertent or imagined, except that her supporters were caught in a Project Veritas video mocking Abbott for his disability, and Davis has made gaffes relating to his handicap before, as when she said that he hadn’t “walked a day in her shoes.”

2. She is a member of a party with supporters in the media ready to pounce on any Republican who makes a similarly provocative reference to an opposing candidate’s race, religion, ethnicity, gender or “abled status.” The double standard is certainly a campaign boon to Democrats, but they have to take advantage of it a bit more subtly than this.

3. What is primarily wrong with the ad, however, isn’t the wheelchair, or the use of tactics that would called an appeal to bigotry if they were used by Republicans. It is that the arguments the ad seem to be making are stupid, unfair and wrong, and ones that Davis, who is a lawyer, must know are stupid and wrong, or she is stupid and wrong.

4. To say that a man in a wheelchair must always support the cause of victims of misfortune whatever the facts or controversy is based on the same fallacy that holds that Clarence Thomas must approve of affirmative action because he benefited from it, that women betray their gender if they support limits on abortion, that Hispanic Americans are duty bound to support open borders, and that African-Americans are traitors to they race if they find fault with President Obama. It is an endorsement of bias, indeed an assertion that it is unethical to make decisions uninfluenced by bias. The ad argues for group identification politics (I know, I know–she’s a Democrat: what do I expect?) and loyalty over responsibility and reason. If Davis really thinks like this, she is too intellectually and ethically disabled to hold office. If she doesn’t, then she is appealing to unsophisticated voters with an attack ad based on what she knows to be false premises.

5. From a factual and legal standpoint, there are no similarities between Abbott’s lawsuit, which is a slam dunk negligence suit most of the time, and the cases referenced in the video. Property owners are responsible for damage done by trees on their property. This is why I pay thousands to have dead trees removed from my property. If one falls on someone jogging by my home, and it puts the jogger in a wheelchair for life (this is what happened to Abbott), I’m on the hook for millions, or my insurance company is. This has nothing to do with the fact-based determination of whether a woman with an artificial leg is “disabled” under the terms of some document (Statute? Policy?) we aren’t told about. Is Oscar Pistorius “disabled” if he can run in the Olympics? Would the fact that a tree fell on him obligate Greg Abbott to believe so?

6. The ad appears to suggest that every single litigant who claims to have been injured due to negligence must prevail!  I have no idea if the rape victim’s claim that a company was liable when one of its salesman raped her is fair or not. The facts involved are critical, and the video doesn’t tell us any of them. Did the company do a background check? Would a background check have revealed that he was a risk? Was the salesman on the job or “on a frolic,” as it is called in the law, when he engaged in the rape? Nobody watching the ad can know, and it’s likely that neither the ad’s makers nor Davis know either. Abbott knows, and thus his judgment on the matter is presumably more reliable than yours, mine, or Davis’s. The ad argues, idiotically, that because Abbott was injured in a case of pure negligence, he had to conclude that a hospital and employer were also negligent in unrelated cases whether they were or not.

7. Such an ad is an insult to everyone who sees it. It presumes that they will be persuaded by absurd reasoning that depends on utter ignorance of law and ethics to have any  persuasive power. The ad promotes ignorance, and encourages voters to make decisions without full information, or fair consideration. The ad says, by cynically making a terrible, logically flawed, legally wrong, misleading argument on the theory that this is all Texas voters need to make up their minds, “You are stupid and ignorant: vote for me.”

8.  Wendy Davis is a cautionary tale about how instant celebrities who gain popularity and influence as a result of a single high-profile opportunity are almost always disappointments, frequently end up colliding with the Peter Principle, tend to lack many or all of the  virtues that their hopeful supporters projected on them, and too often end up embarrassing themselves and their supporters. The list is long, and includes such dissimilar individuals as Ross Perot, Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber, and Cindy Sheehan. The classic film “A Face in the Crowd,” starring Andy Griffith, carries this message.

9. The roots of Davis’s deficiencies as a candidate and as an individual were very evident in her filibuster, which you can read in its entirety here. Both in her own comments and the statements of others that she read and implicitly endorsed, Davis engaged in deceit, double-talk, unfair characterizations and dubious reasoning.  Of course, almost nobody judged Davis’s stunt by its content, but statements did come out of her mouth that could be fairly be said to…

  • Favor abortion over childbirth because it was safer (“Abortion, especially early abortion, in the first twelve weeks, is a safe medical procedure with inherently low-risk in outpatient settings without hospital-like facilities. Serious complications arising from surgical abortions at any gestational age are uncommon. By comparison, pregnancy and childbirth are significantly more dangerous to women than abortion.”)—though not, presumably, for the child aborted,
  • Endorse despicable “war on women” bile like “It’s obvious that the governor and the Republicans in Texas care very little for the women in this state,” the equivalent of claiming that the supporters of pro-abortion measures hate children.
  • Constitute sophistry, like repeated variations on the theme that being “pro choice” is not being pro abortion, though the choice being defended is the choice to abort. Imagine a nuclear power advocate arguing that he wasn’t in favor of nuclear power, just in favor of protecting the choice to have nuclear power.
  • Trivialize the issues involved, with such statements as “If I had a child, I would likely be changing diapers instead of writing my dissertation and devoting all of my money to paying babysitters rather than traveling to deliver papers at a conference.”

10. The question isn’t whether the Texas bill banning abortions after 20 weeks was a good one or not. The question is whether simply opposing that bill in flamboyant fashion qualified Davis for an office that had many important issues to deal with other than abortion and required many skills besides talking for 11 hours. Davis has no executive experience, and the act of nominating her was a cynical and irresponsible one, pandering to women, and advancing the dangerous trend, currently being exposed by the Barack Obama Presidency Ethics Train Wreck, of installing leaders with few proven leadership skills.

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Sources: Politico, Town Hall, New York Times,

6 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On Wendy Davis’s Controversial “Wheelchair Ad” Attacking Greg Abbott

  1. Abbott was and is the attorney general, and it is his duty to defend the state and its officials against lawsuits. There may have been a plausible argument that having a functioning artificial limb does not make one disabled for state law purposes.

    If Abbott had argued that the law should be changed by the legislature to exclude amputees with artificial limbs from state definition of disabled (if the case was otherwise), or argued against changing the law to include amputees with artificial limbs in the state definition of disabled (if the case was otherwise), the Davis campaign would have a great point. Then again, that would have been the actual attack ad.

  2. Number 6 stemmed from a case before the Texas Supreme Court when Abbott was a Justice. A well-known vacuum cleaner manufacturer which had been doing business in Texas for a while had been sued by a woman who claimed that one of it’s salesmen had raped her after demonstrating the cleaner in her home.. Her claim was that the manufacturer should have run background checks on the salesmen. Unfortunately, the manufacturer did not actually sell the cleaner directly, but contracted with a number of local distributors to do so. The distributors then hired the salesmen. The suit stated that the manufacturer should have been responsible for the background checks or required the distributor to make them, which would have found that this particular salesman was a convicted sex offender, on probation, and the Texas Supreme Court agreed. Abbott, in his dissenting opinion, “joined by Justice Priscilla Owen, Abbott argued Kirby bore no civil liability because it had legally removed itself from control of personnel decisions. He pointed to contract language explicitly stating that, “the full cost and responsibility for recruiting, hiring, firing, terminating and compensating independent contractors and employees of Distributor shall be borne by Distributor.”

  3. Update: True to form, Davis has now stepped up in public at a “conference” (Oops! I just wrote “conference,” with sarcastic quotes, and left out writing the typical preceding modifier, “news,” which I guess I did because I was being sarcastic), and defended the ad, standing fully behind it because it allegedly points out Abbot’s hypocrisy. (I got tired, so I deliberately left off quote marks around “hypocrisy.” Or maybe that was because I am not partyist…) Anyway, maybe Davis will raise more funds for her next campaign by selling “choice” coat hangers to beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act. She got her judge to clear the way for vote fraud.

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