Elizabeth Warren’s Troubling Relationship with the Truth
She's been fibbing about how she left a teaching job nearly half a century ago.
The Massachusetts Senator is far and away the most prepared candidate on the 2020 campaign trail. Whatever one’s views of the merits of her policy proposals, it’s undeniable that they’re detailed and that she has a remarkable command of the facts. The same, alas, can’t be said of her own biography, where she repeatedly shades the truth for marginal advantage.
The most famous instance of this, of course, is the longstanding controversy over her essentially non-existent Native American heritage. I, for one, was satisfied with her original explanation, that it was family lore that she never thought to question. But she inexplicably doubled down by releasing testing demonstrating an infinitesimal trace of Cherokee DNA, prolonging the controversy and drawing rebukes from the tribal leadership.
Over the weekend, I saw via some aggregator or another that her longstanding claim that she was fired from a teaching gig way back in 1971 for being pregnant was belied by a long-ago interview she gave. As with the Native American thing, I was prepared to accept a benign explanation for a non-material distortion. Alas, she has inexplicably decided to double down yet again.
In an exclusive interview with CBS News on Monday evening, Warren said she stands by her characterizations of why she left the job.
“All I know is I was 22 years old, I was 6 months pregnant, and the job that I had been promised for the next year was going to someone else. The principal said they were going to hire someone else for my job,” she said.
Warren has repeatedly said that her principal “showed [her] the door” after discovering she was pregnant at the end of the 1971 school year. The episode is pivotal to her life story, in that it dashed her dreams of remaining a public school teacher and launched her reluctantly down the path to public service.
The “showed me the door” anecdote came up often on the campaign trail until recently. And now some outlets have found a 2007 interview Warren gave in which she presents the story in a different light.
In an interview that year at the University of California, Berkeley, Warren gave the first known public account of her time at Riverdale.
“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,” Warren said in 2007. “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.”
Asked by CBS News why she told the story differently at Berkeley a decade ago, Warren said her life since her election to the Senate in 2012 caused her to “open up” about her past. “After becoming a public figure I opened up more about different pieces in my life and this was one of them. I wrote about it in my book when I became a U.S. Senator,” she said in a statement from her campaign.
This explanation strains credulity. Indeed, it’s just baffling.
It’s not as if the interview in question was decades ago. It was in 2007, some 36 years after the event, and she was being interviewed in her capacity as a distinguished law professor. And it’s not as if she was simply noting in passing that she had briefly taught kids with disabilities and was being vague on the nature of the transition. Indeed, she responded with characteristic detail:
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.
So, I went back home to Oklahoma — by this point we were living in New Jersey because of his job — I went back home to Oklahoma for Christmas and saw a bunch of the boys that I had been in high school debate with and they’d all gone on to law school, and they said, “You should go to law school. You’ll love it.” I said, “You really think so?” And they said, “Of all of us, you should have gone to law school. You’re the one who should’ve gone to law school.” So, I took the tests, applied to law school, and the day my daughter, who later became my co-author, turned two, I started law school at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey, which at the time had the nickname of being the “People’s Electric Law Company,” a really crazy place.
[laughs] Lawyers for the — yeah.
That’s right. These were the wild and crazy lawyers, [including] Arthur Cannoy, who was a wonderful figure and had been very active in the Civil Rights movement. It’s a very small law school.
I’d never met a lawyer. I mean, I’d never — I didn’t travel in those circles, and I took to law school like a pig takes to mud. I mean, this was fabulous. I loved law school. And then my third year, final year, in law school I got pregnant again and I didn’t take a job. Alex was born about three weeks after I graduated and it was the hardest moment in my life, because I thought this world that had opened up to me, this world of ideas, and law was a tool, you could make things happen with it — I thought, because I didn’t take a job right out of law school, it was all over, I just kissed it all goodbye. I’d stepped off the train and would never have a chance to get back on it. So, I took the bar, hung out a shingle in northern Jersey, did real estate closings and little incorporations an lawsuits, all on the civil side, and raised my two babies.
And then Rutgers called and said, “Somebody didn’t show up to teach a class. Would you like to come and teach it, and start Thursday?” And I said, “Yeah. How hard could it be?” Right? And so, I started teaching, and then my husband got transferred to Houston and I got my first full-time tenure track teaching job, teaching at the University of Houston. We ended up divorcing and then I went to the University of Texas. I remarried, went to the University of Michigan, went to the University of Pennsylvania, went to Harvard.
And now at Harvard.
And now I’m at Harvard. Isn’t that an amazing story?
It is! As I’ve written before, it’s impressive enough that she went from graduating Rutgers Law School, which is a perfectly solid institution but hardly prestigious, to teaching at Harvard in a few short years. That she did it with kids and in an era where women weren’t nearly as ensconced in the profession as they are now makes it even more impressive.
I don’t understand exactly why she came up with the new version of events where, instead of being persuaded by some old debate friends that she should go to law school, it was an accidental byproduct of an old form of discrimination. I suppose it bolsters her feminist credentials a smidge but they hardly needed bolstering.
While it’s true, as the CBS report notes, that it was in fact understood that untenured teachers had little job security if they got pregnant in those days, there’s simply no evidence that Warren was fired. Indeed, multiple outlets point to the actual records from the school board granting her a renewal.
Her doubling down on this is baffling. It’s not disqualifying for the Presidency and wouldn’t have been even in the pre-Trump era. But she’s going down the Al Gore path of telling minor lies about herself for little obvious benefit.