Monday, May 7, 2012
Meet Elizabeth Warren—Native American
So---here’s Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Senatorial candidate. She’s running against Republican Scott Brown. Brown won the seat that had been called the “Kennedy seat” for decades, handing the Democrats a very embarrassing defeat. The Democrats are not about to let that white, pickup-driving man hold onto that seat. So they picked a woman who has in the past claimed to be a Native American. In fact, it was one of the items which originally got her teaching positions at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.
The truth is that Warren is about as much a Native American as her counterpart, the disgraced Ward Churchill, former professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The number of Americans whose families have been here for a long time includes a great many who have some Native American blood. Most are proud of their heritage, but rarely declare themselves Native Americans when their genes are 1/32 or less tribal. If anything Warren says about her bloodline is true, she is at most 1/32 Native American.
Warren first tried to establish her political bona fides with the common folk of Massachusetts by calling herself “the Okie from Harvard.” She was indeed born in Oklahoma City, but has spent most of her life living elsewhere, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. But before she tried to pass off that ½ truth, she first did her 1/32 truth in order to get preference for her teaching positions. When early reports came out showing that she had at least distorted her ethnic heritage in order to get preference for teaching positions, she waffled.
Instead of addressing directly the issue of her thin Native American bloodline, she indignantly denied that she had ever used that heritage to gain an advantage over other applicants for the positions. Even if that was partially true, there’s no question that she enhanced the original story as she moved from job to job, by calling herself a “minority professor.” She attended professional meetings and forums specifically as a minority professor. But knowing the best defense is a good offense, she got officials at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, and the University of Houston to state the she had not used her Native American heritage in order to get teaching positions there.
Well, what else would you expect? The criteria for hiring one potential professor over another are very arcane and secretive, and in this day of affirmative action backlash and anti-discrimination public hiring laws, no institution is going to admit that ethnicity was a determining factor. Still, those same universities proudly went along with Warren’s description of herself as a minority professor. Needless to say, Warren is blaming Scott Brown partisans for raising a “phony issue.” The mainstream media are assisting Warren, of natch. The Washington Post asks "why is this non-issue being treated as if it were important news?"
For a law professor and now a professional politician, Warren is not very good at deflecting criticism or arguing a point coherently (which actually qualifies her to be Barack Obama’s next Supreme Court nominee). At a recent press conference, Warren babbled about her use of the minority professor gambit. “I listed myself for nearly a decade as a minority law teacher in order to connect with others like me.” She then stumbled over why she de-listed herself as a minority professor when she no longer needed the leg up.
And then she managed to prove herself another racist liberal by stating that she never really claimed to be a Native American, "it was all about stories passed on in her family for decades." Most importantly, she identifies with Native Americans because her grandfather “had the high cheekbones possessed by all Native Americans." Is that anything like “a typical white person?” The schools she taught at never listed her as being specifically Native American, but went along with the minority professor gag. She alone embellished her tribal roots.
If Harvard wasn’t affected by her claims which resulted in her hiring and granting of tenure, they did a very good imitation of it. When administration officials were questioned about the issue, the reply was that even though they had never hired a professor from a second-tier law school for a professor’s position, her expertise on debtor/creditor law pushed her into top contention. And they were proud to have such a notable minority professor. The Harvard Crimson was a bit less scrupulous about her claims. The campus paper published several articles in which Warren touted her connections to the Delaware and Cherokee tribes.
In the long run, this may be a tempest in a teapot. But given her exaggerations about being the Okie Harvard professor and a Native American, one has to wonder what else she has been distorting about her life and credentials. If this turns out to be a pattern, she may find that her attempts to blend in with the non-Harvard elite and to match Scott Brown’s genuine middle class values will end up simply looking ridiculous. Better to admit she is a Harvard elitist than to claim to be something she is provably not.