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Massachusetts Democrats Worried About Warren

The past week in the Massachusetts Senate race between Elizabeth Warren and Senator Scott Brown has been spent with Warren trying to answer questions from the press regarding her decision to list herself as Native American when she joined the faculty of Harvard Law School. To say that she’s bungled the week is to put it mildly and now, as The Boston Herald reports, her fellow Democrats are just a little concerned:

Elizabeth Warren’s stumbling efforts to douse the firestorm surrounding her claims of being a Native American minority have raised concerns among local and national Democrats who are questioning her campaign’s competence.

“There’s nobody watching this that doesn’t think she’s in big trouble,” one well-known Massachusetts Democrat said.

Joe Trippi, a prominent national Democratic consultant, told the Herald that while Warren has time to recover, the campaign should have anticipated this issue would surface.

“The problem is they weren’t ready for something they should have been ahead of,” Trippi said.

Another nationally known Democratic consultant said while there is no hand-wringing yet in the party, “The fact they weren’t prepared for this is a little surprising.”

Some national political experts had much stronger words for Warren’s conflicting explanations about why she listed herself as a minority in university directories.

“This takes her biography into a bizarre dimension,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “It has derailed the effort to define Warren in a voter-friendly way.”

Sabato also said that Warren’s claim that she didn’t list herself as a minority to gain an employment advantage is not believable.

“This is what happens when candidates don’t tell the truth,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious she was using (the minority listing) for career advancement.”

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, here’s how the story basically unfolded this week:

After first saying she didn’t know anything about reports that Harvard Law had listed her as a minority, Warren’s campaign then said she was “proud” of her Native American heritage, citing records showing she was 1⁄32nd Cherokee.

And in a rambling response on Wednesday, Warren went much further, saying her Native American ancestry was always a part of her life story, even though she had never talked about it publicly before.

Warren then recounted how a relative had told her that her Native American heritage was why her grandfather had “high cheekbones like all of the Indians do” — a response that critics have pounced on as perpetuating Native American stereotypes.

“That’s kind of racism,” Sabato said.

As a preliminary matter, I’ve got to say that it strikes me as bizarre that Warren would claim Native American heritage based on such a distant relationship, and even more bizarre that Harvard Law School would claim her as such in its reports about “minority hiring.” However, I suppose such is what we can expect from people who live in a world of identity politics where people are judged not as individuals but as members of whatever group they may have come from. Apparently it’s sufficient for Harvard’s purpose if one’s Great-Great-Great Grandparent was a member of a minority group for them to be able to check off the “Yea, we hired one of those people” boxes on whatever form they happen to be using to keep track of the same.

But that’s only part of the story really. The thing that has kept the story alive in the local Massachusetts press has been the Warren campaign’s bungled handling of the episode. Perhaps they didn’t want to come out and admit that the “Native American” designation was an effort on Warren’s part to increase the odds that HLS would hire her. Given the fact that, as Paul Bedard, notes, it’s not exactly common for Ivy League Law Schools to hire graduates of mid-level law schools as Professors it would, I supposed be understandable if that was the motivation. It’s also understandable why the campaign wouldn’t want to admit that fact, but by bungling the response they’ve only served to keep the story alive longer than it probably should have been. And, in the meantime, the Brown campaign has been relatively silent about the entire controversy. After all, when your opponent is digging themselves into a hole there’s really no need to say much of anything.

None of this is to say that Warren’s campaign is toast, of course. The polls remain incredibly close, although that in itself is good news for Brown given that a Republican hasn’t won a General Election race for the Senate since Edward Brooke was elected in 1966. Brown, on the other hand, was elected in a Special Election in 2010 in which 800,000 fewer people participated than voted in the 2008 General Election. Given that President Obama will quite obviously win Massachusetts by a wide margin again this coming November, all the advantages should be in Warren’s favor. In fact, if I had to make a choice right now I’d say that Warren was likely to defeat Brown. Of course, you could have said the same thing in 2010 but it turned out that Martha Coakley was a singularly bad campaigner. If this week is an indication of how the Warren campaign will be conducting itself as the campaign progresses, then those electoral advantages may end up being completely meaningless.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. mantis says:

    I’ve got to say that it strikes me as bizarre that Warren would claim Native American heritage based on such a distant relationship

    Then you don’t know much about how Native American tribes deal with the heritage issue. For instance, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker is 1/32 Cherokee. He was elected by the nation and his office is responsible for “the execution of the laws of the Cherokee Nation, establishment of tribal policy, day-to-day operations of all programs and enterprises administered by the Cherokee Nation.”

    Is it bizarre that the Cherokee Nation elected someone with only 1/32 Cherokee heritage to lead them?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  2. J-Dub says:

    I like Warren, but 1/32 isn’t much of a claim on a Cherokee ancestry. By that reasoning I’m sure most of us could consider ourselves a minority. Especially considering that 1 out of every 200 living males is a direct descendant of Ghengis Khan:

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0214_030214_genghis.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  3. Jeremy R says:

    The Boston Herald reports, her fellow Democrats are just a little concerned:

    … one well-known Massachusetts Democrat …

    Joe Trippi

    Another nationally known Democratic consultant said …

    Some national political experts …

    Larry Sabato

    One well-known Massachusetts Democratic strategist …

    some Democrats say.

    A right-wing Boston paper, using two FNC contributors and a slew of anonymous could-be-anyone sources. Warren may have had a bad week but The Herald is just doing their typical concern trolling here.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 5

  4. J-Dub says:

    @mantis: Yes, it is. I blame the casino cash.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    One of the things that always amused me about the University of California system — in sort of a tragicomedy sense — is the extent to which they jumped through their own assholes to figure out some way to pimp their “diversity” agenda with respect to their faculty. What made it particularly ironic in my specific case is that in three full years at a U.C. school literally 100% of my professors were old white men. I doubt they even grasped the irony.

    Regarding the Warren vs. Brown contest, you simply can’t beat an incumbent somebody with absolutely nothing, regardless what happens at the top of the ticket. Politically speaking Warren might turn out to be less than nothing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. sam says:

    On the other hand:

    Right-Wing Crazy Obsession Du Jour: Elizabeth Warren Claimed to be Native American

    The usual suspects are on the case, but I can’t figure out why. I assume she self-identified in the AALS Directories as Native American because she is (it was news to me, I should add). Is someone denying that? It’s hard to tell.

    Perhaps, though, the implication is that she got hired for affirmative action reasons, and not because of her work. (UPDATE: Here’s some right-wing crazies making that argument.) That strikes me as dubious for two reasons

    (1) First, there is no pressure to hire Native Americans for affirmative action reasons, except, perhaps, at some law schools in states with large Native American presences (I have this only anecdotally about Arizona and New Mexico). For affirmative action purposes, all law schools care about are African-Americans and Latinos, and even in those two categories, law school commitment to affirmative action usually varies by region of the country. On the other hand, because the AALS aggressively polices the racial and ethnic diversity of law faculties, law schools are careful to make sure anyone who could count as an under-represented minority is so-listed (thus, I can recall a faculty member who was the proverbial “Jewish kid from New York” but with some South American ancestry being listed as “Hispanic,” though no one would have ever so identified him).

    (2) Second, her record of scholarship in bankruptcy is clearly sufficient to get her appointed at Harvard. She is, after all, one of the three most-cited scholars in the bankruptcy/commercial law field, and she is the only woman in the top ten. [My emphasis] (I could imagine being the top woman in the field might have played more of a role than her being Native American, which surely was irrelevant.) The other scholars in her field cited as often or more than her–Bob Scott at Columbia, Alan Schwartz at Yale, and Douglas Baird at Chicago–are all obviously appointable at Harvard, despite their lack of Native American ancestry.

    So the bottom line–as it usually is with right-wing craziness–is that this is all silly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  7. sam says:

    Here’s the cite for proof of her academic prowess: TOP 25 LAW FACULTIES IN SCHOLARLY IMPACT, 2005-2009 (AND HIGHEST IMPACT FACULTY IN 13 AREAS OF SPECIALIZATION)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  8. PD Shaw says:

    @sam: The point being made is that she got into Harvard Law School, the only professor not from a top ten (or top fifty) law school because she didn’t check the box “white.” That she did well at Harvard suggests that she should be defending affirmative action.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. al-Ameda says:

    @mantis:

    Is it bizarre that the Cherokee Nation elected someone with only 1/32 Cherokee heritage to lead them?

    All Native American Tribes should consolidate as one – “Casino Nation”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  10. mattb says:

    Quick anthro lesson…

    Blood is a particularly contentious thing among native americans and first nations people. Generally speaking, then entire concept was largely foreign to most tribes. Blood/Blood Quantum was a European concept that was later adopted by the American Government to help regulate tribes.

    As far as membership and leadership, “blood” (which was a European racial concept) matters far less than commitment to a tribe. In fact, outsiders without any “blood” can, to this day, join most tribal nations if the nation chooses to induct them.

    Further, many tribal groups don’t look particularly well on people who have 100% blood who no longer participate in tribal affairs/business or are continuing to practice traditions.

    So, generally speaking, simply saying you have blood doesn’t mean crap. In the case of Warren, if she wasn’t participating with a tribe, then she can call herself native american all she like – but I can’t think of any legitimate native american who would recognize her. On the other hand, if she was an active tribal participant, then, it could be a valid claim.

    BTW Cherokee is a bit of a catch all term, most Native Americans I know typically use the “term of endearment” Generokee to refer to folks making that claim.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @PD Shaw: Hasn’t Harvard Law historically had problems with underrepresentation of female faculty? Isn’t it much more likely that if she was an attempt to fix an underrepresentation, that is was based on gender?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. sam says:

    @PD Shaw:

    The point being [scurrilous charge] being made is that she got into Harvard Law School, the only professor not from a top ten (or top fifty) law school because she didn’t check the box “white.”

    Are you placing yourself among those who think she committed credentials fraud? Are you not accepting that being one of the top three cited scholars in her speciality was sufficent to garner the appointment?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    I understand Mitt Romney has claimed to be 1/32 human. Badumpah!

    But seriously, Warren should be running a consistent 5 points ahead in Massachusetts. Doesn’t look good for her.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  14. Moderate Mom says:

    When Elizabeth Warren started at Harvard, she was the first female of supposed minority status to be hired and given tenure. Harvard had been under pressure to hire a tenured female minority to teach in the law school, and they held her up as their diversity hire in the Crimson article. Remember, this was around the time of Derrick Bell leading students in protesting the lack of female diversity on the teaching staff.

    I don’t think anyone would disagree that, in the present, Ms. Warren is extremely qualified to hold her position at Harvard. She has an extremely impressive CV in her field. However, what did her CV look like at the time she was hired and how did it compare to other candidates for the position that were not self listing themselves as minorities? For that matter, should being 1/32 (which even now has not been verified for sure) of any minority entitle you to claim that designation, and is it fair to other minorities to claim it?

    She graduated from the lowest ranking law school of any faculty member at Harvard Law (she’s the only one that did not graduate from a Top 10 school, as Rutgers is ranked in the 80s) and there is only one other faculty member teaching at any Ivy League law school that graduated from a lower ranking law school (Nebraska) than she did.

    Compounding these questions, she keeps giving rather strange answers as to why she spent approximately 10 years claiming minority status, as she worked her way up the law school food chain, and then stopped listing herself as a minority once she got the job at Harvard, which is considered the pinnacle of law schools. Hoping someone would invite her to a luncheon, so she could meet people like herself? Please. The listing only says you are a minority, it doesn’t even say what minority you are claiming to be. And claiming to know you’re Native American because Grandpa had high cheekbones, like all the Indians do? That’s just sad. Hell, I have high cheekbones too, but that doesn’t make me a member of any tribe. I also have blonde hair and blue eyes and a pasty white complexion like Ms. Warren, so maybe I’m a Native American after all.

    The whole thing is just bizarre.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

  15. PD Shaw says:

    @sam: My point is that the issue being raised is about her identifying as non-white up until 1995 when she joined the Harvard faculty — whether she did so to get a minority preference. Your posting on her 2005-2009 academic reputation does not address the issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. Steve V says:

    I remember when a friend of mine from my litigating days, every bit as white and European-looking as Elizabeth Warren and with an Irish name, showed me her indian tribe membership card many years ago. My friend, like Warren, is from Oklahoma. She told me it wasn’t unusual for people who look like her to be tribe members where she’s from. Anyway, since we litigated together she went on to academia and is now on the law faculty of a nationally prominent law school. Since she was quite proud of her tribal membership and actively participates in Indian affairs, I wouldn’t be surprised if she listed herself as an Indian on whatever form the university uses. And I’m sure she’s still putting up with the snickering of ignorant people like me who puzzled over her tribal membership back then just because of how she looked.

    I know this story pushes people’s buttons, but when I heard Warren has claimed to be part Indian I really thought nothing of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. PD Shaw says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: Harvard announced her as its first female minority hire, so I would imagine both were important. My own view is that private law schools by the 80s and 90s had become the most ethnic/racial/gender conscious institutions in the United States.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. george says:

    If 1/32nd part of some minority group is enough to claim minority status, then probably 99% of the population is part of some minority or another (and often of several).

    Though I’d have thought that would please the Republicans, as it would effectively dismantle affirmative action – ie everyone would get the same benefits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Hello World! says:

    I want Warren to win this election, but this is BS on her part. I’m very disappointed. This is the sort of thing the right will harrow on until she is kicked out of Harvard and out of the election. I can’t fatham why she did this. Shes gonna have to pull out Scotts nude photos to get attention away from this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Tillman says:

    I can understand tribes admitting those with less-than-clear heritage and so on, but really, she’s less (or as, I don’t know exact figures) related to a Native American at 1/32 ancestry than I am to a fourth cousin.

    By the way, my genetic relation to my fourth cousin is indistinguishable from my genetic relation to any random other person.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. mattb says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    And claiming to know you’re Native American because Grandpa had high cheekbones, like all the Indians do? That’s just sad. Hell, I have high cheekbones too, but that doesn’t make me a member of any tribe. I also have blonde hair and blue eyes and a pasty white complexion like Ms. Warren, so maybe I’m a Native American after all.

    Ok, I realize that you’re referencing the Warren quote, but… Anthro Lesson #2:

    Backing up what Steve V said, there are lots of Blond-haired, blue eyed Native Americans who are considered “pure bloods” by governmental standards. Again, membership in a tribe had far less to do with “blood” in the past (seriously, it’s Europeans who obsessed over this). Net result was there was a LOT of inter-racial marriages among Settler’s and tribal peoples.

    And before anyone start us with raiding parties stealing White Women (which yes, did occur, but at significantly lower rates than most people think), this interbreeding was largely consensual. In fact, many women actually joined tribes because, in general, women had far more autonomy in Native American communities than they did in European Society.

    Either way, the fact is that there are a lot of “true Indians” who look quite white.

    Like I said, I’m pretty sure you didn’t realize this when you made the comment. And the Warren quote did make it seem like she was basing everything on cheekbones. But there was also a suggestion in there that the only “real Indians” need to look like Wes Studi or Russell Means. And that’s just flat out wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. grumpy realist says:

    Given the historical “one drop of black blood == negro” of the South, I’m not too surprised by a small (1/32) percentage of Native American blood being qualifying for some program. It’s not just Harvard–the 1/32 seems to be the standard cut-off point for “qualifying”, when it comes to Native American across the board. One of my friends was pissed because he missed qualifying for certain federal loans for Native Americans by one generation–has 1/64 Native American blood.

    Heck, if I knew I had that card to play in my hand and was gunning for a tenure-track position at Harvard, I’d use it. I really doubt it was more than a sliver on the scale.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. mattb says:

    @Tillman: I’m not defending Warren in this case as I suspect that she really wasn’t involved with any tribe.

    Like I said, one of the easiest way to piss off a Native American is to announce you’re part Cherokee. For extra points, ask how they feel about Generokee Johnny Depp playing Tonto in the upcoming Lone Ranger Movie and his promise to have a “more nuanced*” portrayal of a Plains Indian Shaman on screen.

    * – So far this mean wearing a dead bird on his head based on a single painting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. mattb says:

    @grumpy realist:

    It’s not just Harvard–the 1/32 seems to be the standard cut-off point for “qualifying”, when it comes to Native American across the board. One of my friends was pissed because he missed qualifying for certain federal loans for Native Americans by one generation–has 1/64 Native American blood.

    Correct.

    And understand that is a quantum set by the US Government — not Harvard or any Tribe.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. Scott F. says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Elizabeth Warren is a singularly talented spokesperson on the economic pressures facing the American middle class. At a time in our history when the FIRE sector has attained such dominance, her voice in the debate is desperately needed. It beggars belief that she could be kept from the Senate, by Scott Brown (!) in Massachusetts (!!!), over such trivial BS.

    We, as a nation, are truly and profoundly screwed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  26. Console says:

    Control F “poll” not found

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Jenos Idanian says:

    Warren, among her other credentials, claims to have “created the intellectual foundation” of the Occupy movement.

    Five leaders of which were arrested this week for trying to blow up a bridge in Cleveland.

    And as IOwnTheWorld points out, the evil,vile, hate-filled racist George Zimmerman is 1/8 black (using that European standard again), and probably had more time around blacks than Warren has around her fellow tribespeople.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5

  28. Peter says:

    If Warren had entered the 1965 Miss Nordic Maiden beauty contest no one would have thought it at all unusual. At least Ward Churchill looked sort of different, though that may have been due in part to the way he wore his hair so long and straight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. Herb says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    “Warren, among her other credentials, claims to have “created the intellectual foundation” of the Occupy movement.

    Five leaders of which were arrested this week for trying to blow up a bridge in Cleveland.”

    Oh, I see what you did there. Trying to link Warren up some domestic terrorists.

    You point and say, “See, they believe the same things!” Only they don’t…..

    The joke: What’s the difference between anarchists who want to blow up a bridge and public servants running for office? The punchline: There is no difference.

    Hardy har har.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t believe there’s anyone genuinely concerned about the extent of Warren’s Native American heritage. Some Democrats are concerned about Republicans using it as a weapon and some Republicans are concerned with it only to the extent that it can be weaponized.

    This country is full of white people claiming Indian blood, not just to get jobs, but to…you know…reflect reality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  30. superdestroyer says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Maybe the real point should be that companies and law schools should white whites that did not attend the top 14 law schools. But since so many companies have outsourced their hiring to the admissions offices of the Ivy Leauge, it really shows how arbitrary one fate in life is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. Racehorse says:

    How about if a person is 1/24 % Viking? Does that count? (I’m not talking about that sorry mess of a football team).
    Is this all there is to talk about in that election? Then Brown has it made. Warren blew it before and is going to do it again. The Democrats couldn’t come up with someone better? In Massachusetts?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  32. superdestroyer says:

    I more interesting question would be if Elizabeth Warren’s daughter, Amelia Tyagi., ever claimed to be an Cherokee. It is one thing to claim special status in order to get a foot in the doors on power. It is another for an Ivy league graduate to use the claim to get special benefits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  33. Herb says:

    @superdestroyer: “I more interesting question would be if Elizabeth Warren’s daughter, Amelia Tyagi., ever claimed to be an Cherokee.”

    If you knew anything about the Dawes rolls or how such things as native ancestry were legally quantified, you wouldn’t ask this question.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. bandit says:

    She’s Fauxcahontas from the Fauxnee tribe. Just another liberal phony and liar – well like them all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7