Elizabeth Warren: The Cherokee Fable That Won't Go Away

On the same day last week Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson had to resign for embellishing his resume, the Globe corrected a “reporting error” by acknowledging it had not seen evidence purporting to prove Elizabeth Warren’s great-great-great grandmother was Cherokee. The symbolism of the coincidence is profound.

Warren still hasn’t provided acceptable proof that she is a descendant of the Cherokees. And she has yet to apologize for — or explain in any way, really — the use of Cherokee ancestry to describe her as a “minority” law professor. Her campaign is reeling.

Like Thompson, Warren casts blame on others — including Scott Brown — rather than recognizing the buck stops with her. Unlike Thompson, however, she continues down the rabbit hole of the campaign trail as if nothing happened. She’s apparently hoping the issue will just go away if she ignores it long enough. So far, that strategy isn’t exactly working.

Creative resumes have doomed people in all walks of life — like Thompson — from holding high-profile jobs. Notre Dame fans, for instance, remember George O’Leary, hired by the Irish as its football coach and forced to resign five days later because he lied on his resume about playing football at UNH and receiving a degree from NYU. In politics, Wes Cooley, a one-term congressman from Oregon, had to withdraw from a campaign in the mid-1990’s and was ultimately convicted for lying about his military record. More recently, the New York Times reported that then-U.S. Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal exaggerated his military service during Vietnam. The story hurt Blumenthal at first, his lead over a Republican rival shrinking by 10 points within days. But Blumenthal addressed the issue head-on — acknowledging and explaining his “misstatements” soon after the Times piece — and Connecticut voters bought it.

Warren’s refusal to confront the issue has opened her up to being accused of cynically abusing the concept of affirmative action — in spirit at the very least — that was spawned to assist members of groups that historically had been victims of prejudice by enabling them to develop role models and attain positions that had been previously denied to them.

It was a creation of the same liberal establishment and social engineers Warren claims to embody. Isn’t it likely that some members of that liberal class are finally wondering about the source of the dubious claim of Warren’s Native American ancestry? If Warren were actually the source, is that the type of cynical bean-counting advocates of affirmative action had in mind? Or would it be, possibly, the exploitation of a system to give a job candidate a leg up in a very competitive hiring process?

The results of a recent Rasmussen poll have been portrayed (and then parroted) as showing that the Cherokee affair hasn’t yet had an impact on Warren because she remains tied with Brown at 45 percent. This doesn’t tell the whole story, of course, since it leaves out the critical fact that Warren had just embarked on a major, very expensive media buy featuring none other than the President himself. By showing her Obama cards so early, Warren must have hoped for a boost in the polls, perhaps trying to put 5-7 points of daylight between her and Brown. Instead, she’s spent a lot of campaign cash but remains in a dead heat. And the Cherokee affair lives on. This has to trouble her supporters.

Warren needs to either produce evidence that really documents Cherokee ancestry, or address its misplaced use. Claims that she wasn’t aware of the classification on law school websites, however, smack of “da ni na gv” (I believe that’s ‘b.s.’ in phonetic Cherokee … ) — she’s a Harvard Law Professor after all.

If Warren doesn’t somehow own up, this mess, and not just her recipes in Pow Wow Chow, may leave a bad taste in voters’ mouths in November … if she makes it that far. It is on the verge of becoming part of how voters internalize her persona, like when Martha Coakley called Curt Schilling a Yankee fan. It showed that Coakley was clueless and a bit of a detached elitist. That’s what is now at stake for Warren.

  • Lou Mandarini

    Maybe we should point out that this author pushing a silly Republican story has repeatedly contributed to the Republican Party, including maxing out in 2010 to Scott Brown.
    http://www.campaignmoney.com/political/contributions/john-sivolella.asp?cycle=10

    Transparency, Boston Magazine, is always the best policy.

  • Rick in Duxbury

    Yes, because BOMAG is such a kneejerk right wing organ? Please. Exactly what did he say that was false? Shooting the messenger didn’t work for Coakley and it won’t work for Warren. Swap the D and R suffixes and the discussion would be a no-brainer. Not being a mindless left-winger doesn’t automatically make one a mindless right-winger, regardless of how much some might wish that were so. If Brown were as far to the right as some of his critics are to the left, he never would have been elected in the first place from MASSACHUSETTS.

  • Bob

    Spare me any apologies until we hear one from her. It’s hardly a new convention to have this kind of family lore checked before using it for professional purposes. Yet Warren used it for over a decade, all the way up the academic ladder, allowing employers and professional directories to tout her as a minority hire, stopping only when she achieved tenure at Harvard. Now upon being challenged, genealogists find zero evidence that she has any Native American ancestry at all.

    Her excuses to date have been breathtakingly condescending, mentioning “Paw-Paw’s high cheekbones that all Indians have” and her contributions to a “tribal heritage” cookbook titled “Pow-Wow Chow”, edited by her equally-white cousin. Further, Friday it was revealed that some of her cookbook contributions were word-for-word lifts from the New York Times without citation, adding plagiarism to the list of questions about her integrity. Somehow I don’t believe either Professor Warren or Harvard would tolerate the same behavior in her students, throwing doubt into even her “…but I’m such a good teacher…” defense. Sorry, but my empathy is limited to those legitimate minority candidates she displaced with her fraud, however innocently conceived.

  • Mike Fox

    Rather than focusing on the issues affecting the people of Massachusetts, Warren has shifted the focus to herself. This election is about taking back our country not defending the lies of the democratic establishment.

  • http://trochilustales.blogspot.com/ Trochilus

    Excellent post, John.

    And, congratulations on having already attracted a troll, one who has immediately attacked you for the — gasp! — temerity of having been a past supporter of Scott Brown back during his “remainder of the term” race versus Martha Coakley in 2010.

    Dare I say it . . . that there are undoubtedly those among us conservatives who would gladly wear, as an undeniable and proud badge of honor, the entitlement of simply being able to say:

    “My first commenter, on my first blog post was a progressive troll!”

    Mighty nice of your troll as well to address the “best policy” importance of transparency.

    Of course, that was something which the commenter might more persuasively have directed at Elizabeth Warren herself, regarding both the circumstances of the touting of her faux heritage while at Harvard and Penn, and in her mid-’80s foray into assisting her cousin in publishing Pow Wow Chow, containing “traditional” Native American “cold-omelet and crab-meat w/mayonnaise sauce” dishes, recipes which, it turns out, were lifted whole cloth from prior publications written by others!

    Way back in 1984, I imagine neither “Elizabeth Warren, Cherokee” (as she therein identified herself), nor her cousin, could have ever possibly guessed that something like “Googling” would come along a mere decade or two later, providing anyone with a simple but effective tool by which her then-petty pilfering of recipes could be easily exposed, and right in the midst of a United States Senate campaign!

    She just never imagined the possibility of getting caught!

    Now, I also notice, John, that you have been identified herein as a reasonable conservative . . . which raises the obvious question of whether any of your “fellow-bloggers” have been identified as “reasonable liberals?

    Or, would the latter be just too much of a stretch for even the most strident advocates of elasticity in expression?

    Best of luck!

  • Dick Hartley

    I think you are right on when you describe Warren as an elitist and clueless. Can’t wait to hear the debates! I was somewhat disturbed by this morning’s news regarding the Suffolk poll and the virtual tie between the candidates. Particularly after hearing the presentation of John P. at the Pioneer Institute gathering. The thing that bothers me the most is the sense that she can do anything she wants including plagiarizing if need be.

  • http://trochilustales.blogspot.com/ Trochilus

    I must say that I really do find it amusing that a Professor of Law, at arguably the most prestigious law school in the entire country, persists to this day in pleading ignorance about both the law and the facts regarding the specific circumstances related to her own status at said University, over a period of several years, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding!

  • MJ

    Reading these replies makes me more determined to oust the repulsive no-service Scott Brown. I have had HORRIBLE responses from his staff & over time see Brown as only out fot Brown. He is the Accidental Senator & I will give every ounce of energy I have to unbseating this self serving egotist. Brown voting for the Blount amendment– now that is a far more important concern to me whether Warren’s family is mistaken about Cherokee heritage.