It’s not another iteration of Pow Wow Chow or high cheekbones, but it might point to another credibility and authenticity issue for Elizabeth Warren. While Warren talks about her life of enduring gender discrimination, a progressive journalist has dug up an old interview which strongly suggests that Warren has engaged in yet even more fabulism in service to identity politics.
Jacobin reporter and self-identified Democratic Socialist Meagan Day started the ball rolling on Tuesday with this tweet, rebutting another user who echoed Warren’s claim of being fired from her first teaching job for getting pregnant (via National Review):
— Meagan Day (@meaganmday) October 1, 2019
Bernie Sanders may be recuperating at the hospital, but his followers are not taking any time off, it seems. Whatever the motivation, though, Day is very much correct about the contradiction. Here’s the full question and answer from Warren’s interview with Harry Kreisler at UC Berkeley in 2007, which was not only archived in text but also on YouTube as part of UCB’s “Conversations with History” series. This part of the conversation picks up around the six-minute mark of the video:
For a while? I mean, you actually pursued that career?
I actually did. I was married at nineteen and graduated from college after I’d married, and my first year post-graduation I worked in a public school system with the children with disabilities. I did that for a year, and then that summer I didn’t have the education courses, so I was on an “emergency certificate,” it was called. I went back to graduate school and took a couple of courses in education and said, “I don’t think this is going to work out for me.” I was pregnant with my first baby, so I had a baby and stayed home for a couple of years, and I was really casting about, thinking, “What am I going to do?” My husband’s view of it was, “Stay home. We have children, we’ll have more children, you’ll love this.” And I was very restless about it.
In this telling of Warren’s story, she left her public-school teaching job not because she got pregnant, but because she never got the requisite education for the job. She went back to get her grad-school credits but discovered that she didn’t have a passion for it, telling her husband that “I don’t think this is going to work out for me.”
So where did the principal and the firing come into the narrative — and when? That piqued the curiosity of our friend Jeryl Bier, who notes that Warren has told an alternate version of this story repeatedly since the publication of her autobiography in 2014. That appears to be the first time that Warren gave any indication that she was pushed out of the job rather than walked away out of being “restless.” As late as 2012, Jeryl notes, that part of the origin story hadn’t emerged:
Since 2014, Warren has claimed she was fired for being pregnant, not quit over a lack of desire to get her full certificate. Jeryl links to Warren’s appearance at Berkeley in May of this year, twelve years after the above interview, for the identity-politics version she has told over the last five years:
“Warren’s demeanor when she spoke at Laney College on Friday was natural and unassuming as she recounted her early life and her career: teaching disadvantaged children, studying law, and teaching business and banking law at the university level. Getting fired from her job teaching children by a male principal for being visibly pregnant. Running for office; winning her Senate seat.”
Just last month at a Democratic debate, Warren brought up her story about losing her job over her pregnancy:
And I made it as a special needs teacher. I still remember that first year as a special needs teacher. I could tell you what those babies looked like. I had 4- to 6-year-olds. But at the end of that first year, I was visibly pregnant. And back in the day, that meant that the principal said to me — wished me luck and hired someone else for the job.
Jeryl has a few more examples of the fired-for-being-pregnant version of the story, so be sure to read it all. That leaves us with a dilemma: which story is true? They can’t both be true, so one of them has to be false. What reason would Warren have had in lying about it in 2007, especially in a Berkeley interview for their “Conversations with History” series? The rest of the story in 2007 is one of empowerment — of putting aside an uncomfortable fit and finding her true calling in the law and not allowing gender roles to daunt her from her destiny. That doesn’t necessarily preclude Warren’s later claim, but it doesn’t leave much room for it — especially if her transcripts include those education classes taken after her first year on the job.
On the other hand, Warren had plenty of incentive to reinvent the story into one of gender discrimination by 2014. She planned to make public office her career and progressive identity politics her agenda. It wouldn’t take much to reconstruct that event into one of gender discrimination, especially one that would be difficult to fact-check. That doesn’t necessarily make the later version false either, but having Warren on a YouTube video from 2007 telling the story very differently certainly leaves that impression.
This comes at a most inopportune moment, assuming it makes any impact at all. Having survived her own worst instincts in defending her earlier claims of Native American ancestry, Warren has gained momentum in the Democratic presidential primary, mainly at Bernie Sanders’ expense, and now appears to be seriously challenging Joe Biden’s prospects for the nomination. The last thing Warren needs now is another identity-politics authenticity scandal, one that will recall her years-long effort to tamp down the first one regarding her claims of Native American ancestry.
My prediction is that this will go nowhere for now. If Warren starts getting close to the nomination, though, the GOP will pick it up at that point. Donald Trump’s too busy with the Bidens to notice this yet, but when he does, it will get his screamin’ Twitter treatment. There will be much handwringing over this when it happens because of Trump’s long track record of false claims and reinventions, but all that will do will be to pull Warren down to his level — the formula that worked so well for Trump against Hillary Clinton in 2016.