Wendy Davis is a fanatic as Winston Churchill defined the word: “One who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Her candidacy was the product of abortion fanaticism and almost nothing else. Texas Democrats have a pronounced weakness for abortion fanaticism, an inclination having something to do with their being fascinated by the grotesque line of succession from the late Governor Ann Richards, abortion fanatic par excellence, to her daughter, Cecile, the butcher’s apprentice who today serves as the public face of Planned Parenthood.
“Fanaticism” is not synonymous with “extremism.” Extremism, as Barry Goldwater famously declared, is not necessarily a vice. My colleague Charles C. W. Cooke holds extremist views — absolutist views, in fact — about free speech, the sainted Mother Teresa was nothing if not an extremist in her devotion, etc. Mother Teresa sometimes doubted her faith, but the true fanatic does not. He is, as The American Heritage Dictionary puts it, “possessed by an excessive zeal and uncritical attachment to a cause or position.” The fanatic does not necessarily even hold out-of-the-mainstream opinions: Robert Reich, the lawyer who sometimes plays an economist on television, brings his unique brand of cracked fanaticism to views that are so common as to be pedestrian. Fanaticism entails the identification of the self with the cause, and the fanatic lives in fear that someone, somewhere, might be wrong about the Fair Tax, gay marriage, or the carried-interest treatment of private-equity managers’ incomes. In the case of Wendy Davis, this is particularly perverse: Her life has been given meaning by the opposite of life.