New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has written almost exactly what I was thinking regarding U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren and her exaggerated (and possibly non-existent) Cherokee heritage. So I recommend you read it. I have just a few additional thoughts.
I have to admit this is one of those stories that got by me. I didn’t think it would amount to much after the Boston Herald’s Hillary Chabot broke the story on April 27. Even though Harvard Law School had touted her as a diversity hire, there was no evidence (and there still isn’t) that she had ever sought to claim minority status for career advancement. And when the Boston Globe reported that she was, in fact, 1/32 Cherokee, that seemed to be the end of it. After all, the current tribal chief is only 1/32 Cherokee.
But things got a lot worse for Warren last week, when the Globe published a correction stating that there was no real evidence of Warren’s Cherokee background. Apparently this is nothing more than one of those family legends that may or may not have some basis in fact.
Like Douthat, and like millions of other Americans, I grew up thinking I might have some Native American heritage. My mother’s family was named Shaw; we had a cottage in Onset when I was growing up with a sign out front that said “Shawnee,” a tribute to that supposed heritage. My mother didn’t think there was anything to it, but who knows? As far as I know, no one in my family has traced our ancestral roots. We do go back to the early days of Plymouth Colony, so anything is possible.
I’ve heard it said that Warren should have been able to put all this behind her rather easily, but I don’t think it’s that simple. At root, I think she harbored a romantic vision of herself, which is why she listed herself as a Native American in law directories and contributed recipes to a cookbook by Native Americans. I suspect she’s deeply embarrassed that her fantasies have been exposed and mocked.
Can Warren overcome this politically? We’ll see. I’ve thought from the beginning that Warren’s Republican opponent, Sen. Scott Brown, was a tough candidate with first-rate political instincts. As I recently wrote in the Huffington Post, I thought the only reason that Warren had a chance was the large Democratic turnout that could be expected given that she’ll be on the same ballot as President Obama. Otherwise, Brown would be a shoo-in.
Let’s just say that the events of the past few weeks won’t help Warren.
U.S. Treasury Department photo via Wikimedia Commons.