On PBS, Texas Journalist Compares Abortion Filibusterer to Movie Hero Billy Jack

Texas state senator Wendy Davis has been lauded by the liberal media this week after filibustering legislation that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and put in place common-sense safety measures for abortion clinics. But one liberal Texas journalist went over the top by comparing Davis to a certain fictional folk hero.

Appearing on the PBS NewsHour, Texas Tribune editor-in-chief Evan Smith told the tale of how Davis filibustered a $4 billion public education cut back in 2011. The Texas legislature later passed the cut anyway, but Davis “became something of a folk hero,” according to Smith. Speaking to anchor Gwen Ifill, he then made a glowing comparison to a cinematic hero from the early 1970s:
 

"And again, you and I both remember the movie Billy Jack, right? She is basically State Senator Billy Jack, D--Fort Worth. She has really assumed a folk hero status."
 

Billy Jack, for those who don’t know, was a 1971 movie about a half-white, half-Indian peace-loving Vietnam veteran who protects the students of a progressive school from the bigoted local Arizona townspeople and law enforcement officers. The film was a product of the civil rights era, casting an ethnic minority as the hero against white bigots.

Apparently, Smith sees Billy Jack when he looks at Wendy Davis. And there is one basic similarity between the two. Billy Jack fought on behalf of racial and ethnic minorities, while Davis fought on behalf of the Democratic minority in the Texas State Senate, as well as the minority of Texans who oppose the 20-week abortion ban. But is Smith trying to equate Texas Republicans and pro-life advocates with a crowd of racist townspeople and a nasty, bigoted sheriff? Billy Jack faced villainous characters, but Davis is merely up against fellow legislators who disagree with her.

Also, Billy Jack fought his opponents using martial arts. No word on whether Davis roundhouse kicked Texas Governor Rick Perry or any other Republicans with her now much-celebrated pink sneakers.

Near the end of the interview, Smith prepared PBS’s audience for the likelihood that Texas Republicans will eventually get their way and pass the 20-week abortion ban. That outcome is likely, according to Smith, but it won’t dim Davis’s star: “And the reality is, whatever the outcome, Wendy Davis is the folk hero that everyone views her as, and her celebrity is on the rise, her political prospects have risen.”

It’s hard to imagine that “everyone” views Davis as a folk hero when a plurality of Americans actually support the legislation she sought to block. A new National Journal poll found that 48 percent of Americans are in favor of banning abortions after 20 weeks, with 44 percent opposed.

It would be one thing if Davis were clearly taking the righteous position, as Billy Jack was. But of course, standing in the way of a bill that might prevent the killing of unborn babies is not exactly a morally righteous cause. Many Americans believe it is, but many others disagree. In reality, politics is not an action movie in which one hero can kick and karate chop her way to victory over her adversaries. Wendy Davis is no Billy Jack.

Below is a transcript of the comments:

GWEN IFILL: Evan, tell us a little bit about Wendy Davis. This is not the first time she's filibustered something.



EVAN SMITH: Correct. Back in the 2011 legislative session when they were getting ready to cut $4 billion from public education-- a historic cut-- Wendy Davis filibustered at the end of the first regular session. She talked this to death. Basically, she was able to run the clock out as she was not able to do by herself yesterday. Governor Perry called a special session, they came back in, they instituted those education cuts anyway in the special session. but Wendy Davis became something of a folk hero two years ago for having had the brass to stand up to the power structure in Texas. She was one person by herself; she basically talked those cuts to death. So coming into this session she already had a reputation for being willing to do that and, you know, look, the abortion issue is one that divides Texas as it divides many other places, and when these laws were proposed, not just the upgrade of the abortion clinics but also the ban after 20 weeks, Wendy Davis announced, "I'm going to do what I can to stop this." Made the point of filibustering again. And, again, you and I both remember the movie Billy Jack, right? She is basically State Senator Billy Jack, D--Fort Worth. She has really assumed a folk hero status. Not since Anne Richards, Gwen, has a Democrat risen to the national/international level of acclaim-- for good or for ill-- that she has.

***

SMITH: The Democrats were able to use the rule book to run out the clock this last time. They're not going to be able to use the rule book, almost certainly, to run out the clock this time. They won the battle; they will almost certainly lose the war. They can marshal the opposition to this bill. Wendy Davis and her colleagues can stand and talk and maneuver and do everything they can. The outcome of this is more or less decided. They're going to pass this bill. The victory was achieved in forcing them to go into a second special session. And the reality is, whatever the outcome, Wendy Davis is the folk hero that everyone views her as, and her celebrity is on the rise, her political prospects have risen, and for the first time really, again, I go back to Anne Richards, Gwen, for the first time since Anne Richards the Democrats have somebody they can rally around as a candidate who may begin to turn the clock back.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.