Elizabeth Warren's stealth campaign to overcome her 'Pocahontas' problem

When Elizabeth Warren made a surprise appearance at a Native American event about two weeks ago, it was clear she was looking to clear up a problem ahead of a possible presidential run. Today, Politico reports that appearance wasn’t the extent of her effort. She has been quietly meeting with Native American leaders in what Politico dubs a “stealth campaign” to backstop her own biography:

Derisively nicknamed “Pocahontas” by President Donald Trump over allegations that she used claims of Native American heritage to get a head start in her job search — a claim she and former colleagues strongly deny — Warren has met with close to a dozen tribal leaders and prominent activists recently.

She has also signed on to at least six bills directly related to Native American policy. It’s clearly an organized effort: Four of those co-sponsorships came within two days of her speech, and Warren endorsed two bills around that time even though they’d been introduced months earlier…

Now, Warren and her backers are hoping to move beyond the argument entirely and spin it into a positive. The aim is to neutralize what’s seen as an Achilles’ heel for a potential national bid, turning wary activists into allies.

“Her speech was, in many ways, long overdue. It was a great opportunity for her to tell her story,” said Rion Ramirez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee’s Native American Council, who sat down with Warren the day before she addressed the NCAI. “Unfortunately, her president tries to define what her story is. And it’s not his story to tell.”

Have you seen those ads on TV for the DNA test that reveals someone who grew up thinking they had German ancestors was actually not German at all? Don’t those seem pretty relevant here?

Presumably, Warren could sign up for a $100 DNA test that would confirm if she has Native American ancestry after all. That would be a lot easier than signing onto a bunch of old bills or meeting with Native American leaders behind the scenes to curry favor. Why doesn’t she just get the test and prove her critics wrong? It’s at least possible they are wrong. Doesn’t she want to know if the stories about her own family are true?

Instead, it seems she’s working a political angle, i.e. getting people on her side who will then help to insulate her from attacks on this issue. This shameless effort to ingratiate herself with Native American leaders sounds like it could work based on some of the quotes in this story.

Is Native American heritage really just a story now? I thought it was about having an actual biological connection to a historic tribe, something Warren doesn’t have so far as anyone can tell. Are Native American leaders going to back her up when she gets attacked without knowing the truth?

In today’s world, you can apparently be anything you want to be just by claiming it’s what you really feel. If a woman who is not Native American can get away with putting that down on employment forms and then backstopping that with private negotiations with Native Americans, it seems reality no longer matters. So long as the right people will go along with you, you can claim to be anything.