It has been a pretty bad week for Elizabeth Warren, the feisty class warrior and conservative bogeywoman who is locked in a tight race to replace Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate seat once held by the late Ted Kennedy. Warren’s troubles have centered around a Boston Herald report that revealed that now-famous Harvard law professor used to identify herself as a “minority” in law school directories, based on a far-back (and unconfirmed) Native American ancestry.
Although the schools she worked at have since claimed that Warren’s “race” never came up during her hiring, Harvard bragged about Warren’s Native American background to the Crimson in the 1990s, when the law school was under fire for a lack of faculty diversity.
Conservatives predictably freaked out, and accused Warren of fabricating a minority background to advance her academic career. Genealogists were able to find that Warren’s great-great-great grandmother is listed as Cherokee on a 1984 marriage application, but were unable to confirm the ethnicity.
To make matters worse, Warren’s response has been ridiculous.
First, she said she did not recall that Harvard had listed her as Native American — which is suspect given that Warren listed herself as a minority. She also tried to say that the story was a sexist attack from the Brown campaign, but the argument didn’t make a lot of sense.
And yesterday, Warren told the Herald that she put herself down as minority “in the hopes that it might mean that I would be invited to a luncheon, a group something that might happen with people who are like I am.”
She also claimed that “being Native American has been part of my story I guess since the day I was born” — despite the fact that she has rarely, if ever, mentioned her Native American ancestor in any of her speeches or statements.
To back up this up, she told reporters,”my Pepaw, had high cheekbones like all of the Indians did.”
Seriously. Watch the video:
Brown, meanwhile, has been sinking his shots — literally. His campaign has been sending around a video of the Senator nailing a half-court shot at a youth community centre last Friday.
And while Warren has been laying low, trying not to say stupid things about Native Americans, Brown has been hitting the campaign trail hard, hammering in a message of bipartisanship and accusing Warren of engaging in divisive, class war politics.
He also snapped up endorsements from two Democrats, the former mayors of Boston and Worcester.
In the long run, it is not clear how much the Native American story will hurt Warren. So far, the media has been reluctant to give the story much play — even The New York Times appears to have bought into Warren’s spin that the story is a distraction from the “real issues.”
But there is evidence that Warren’s claim to “minority” status could turn into a major issue. I have written before that stories stick when they highlight something we already suspect about a candidate (think Seamus), and the Native American story underscores the conservative claim that Warren is the worst kind of whiny, liberal “victim.” On the other end of the political spectrum, Warren’s apparent abuse of affirmative action raises big questions about whether she has been taking advantage of the very groups she claims to protect.
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