The enduring legacy of Elizabeth Warren’s tribal roots
posted at 12:32 pm on May 26, 2012 by Howard Portnoy
The shrillest voices on the left will tell you that the lingering saga of Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s questionable claim of American Indian roots is a distraction. They will tell you it’s a media-manufactured story, and they will point to polls that show Massachusetts voters don’t really care about the issue.
The Warren campaign will tell you the same thing. They’re probably right for a change, but guess what? The story is not going away. In fact, it’s intensifying now that the press has picked up the scent of … well, blood in the water. The left-leaning Boston Globe devoted a lengthy article on Friday to Warren’s insistence that she’s 1/32 Cherokee. The piece was long not just in column inches but on skepticism:
US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren has said she was unaware that Harvard Law School had been promoting her purported Native American heritage until she read about it in a newspaper several weeks ago.
But for at least six straight years during Warren’s tenure, Harvard University reported in federally mandated diversity statistics that it had a Native American woman in its senior ranks at the law school. According to both Harvard officials and federal guidelines, those statistics are almost always based on the way employees describe themselves.
In addition, both Harvard’s guidelines and federal regulations for the statistics lay out a specific definition of Native American that Warren does not meet.
Part of the reason the story gained legs in recent weeks was Warren’s and her campaign’s reaction, which was to stonewall. Fred Thys of the Boston NPR affiliate WBUR notes that Warren, who is running for as high-visibility an office as exists in this country, made herself invisible to the campaign-covering media for 12 straight days. The candidate, he writes, “held campaign events, but no press was there to cover them because her campaign did not want reporters there to ask questions.”
Finally, on Thursday, Warren emerged from the shadows, only—predictably—to be inundated with questions about her supposed Indian heritage. The Q & A went something like this:
Warren: I’m here today to support a new bill in Congress that takes the banking executives off the board of directors of the regional Federal Reserve banks.
Reporter: Can you tell us whether you are, in fact, a member of a minority group?
Warren: I… middle-class families are getting hammered.
Reporter: Members of the Cherokee nation want to know. They say you should come clean.
Warren: I have made the facts clear, and what I’m trying to do is talk about in this Senate race, what matters to America’s families.
Reporter: Why did you claim you were a minority and then stop? the reporter insisted.
Warren: I have told you, Warren replied. I have answered these questions. I am going to talk about what’s happening to America’s families.
The relentless chipping away went on in this same fashion for another ten minutes. Warren repeatedly tried to change the subject to the “issues” that were “substantive,” and each time the press brought her back to the question of whether she fudged her ancestral roots to get ahead.
Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast is one of the shrill skeptics cited earlier. He calls the story a “witch hunt” and asks what difference it makes whether the story is true. Dismissing the putative charge that it reflects negatively on Warren’s character, he writes, “Oh please,” adding “she was the daughter of an Oklahoma janitor, for God’s sakes, who started working as a pre-teenager when her father had a heart attack.” In other words, she fairly drips with character, whether she has so much as a corpuscle of Amerindian blood coursing through her veins.
The strong possibility that she may be a liar or the certainty in any case that she fell back on the flimsiest of technicalities to gain advancement do not count as character issues in Tomasky’s world—unless the individual being scrutinized is a conservative.
To the Tomaskys out there, Elizabeth Warren is—blood lines notwithstanding—a member of the tribe… the tribe being liberals, whom you can always count on to circle the wagons whenever it is one of their own.
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