In the most generous interpretation, this whole 'Elizabeth Warren Cherokee' thing is a sad and even tragic tale. If she can be taken at her word (or at some of her words anyhow), then Elizabeth Warren, flaxen-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned daughter of the Oklahoma plains, truly did believe for most of her life that she was part Cherokee. If that is true, then what we have all witnessed playing out across the pages of the Herald and the Globe over the past five weeks is the slow and messy death of an obviously-treasured self-delusion. Worse, the systematic dismantling of Warren's sense of self has played out fully in the glare of a media spotlight that she herself invited. Shakespearean stuff.
Professor Warrern is not who she thought she was. Nor is her mother who Warren thought she was. Nor her 'Pee-Paw' of the high cheekbones and decidedly Nordic ancestry. That is is sad. And the lengths to which she is going now to cling to her delusion are increasingly uncomfortable to watch.
So uncomfortable, in fact, that Warren's campaign has pulled her effectively off the campaign trail (or any part of it where she might cross paths with a reporter) and resorted to 'addressing' the issue via late-night press release - the most recent of which pretty much tried to un-say everything she's said about the controversy to-date, resulting in yet another Globe front page story... and yet more questions.
Time for Plan C, which apparently calls for Professor Warren to "come clean" one-on-one to hand-picked print reporters who the campaign undoubtedly expected to be friendly and sympathetic. That is working out only a tiny bit better than her cringe-inducing televised efforts. The first try, with the Herald's resident liberal Peter Gelzinis, was an utter flop, earning her the headline, "Elizabeth Warren Requests A Call, Then Phones It In"
Not to belabor the Cherokee analogy here, but when it comes to the Herald’s recent powwow dance on Elizabeth Warren, well, I guess you could say I’ve been off the reservation.
Maybe that’s why I got a call from her people yesterday, saying Elizabeth would like to speak with me...
...’ll admit that for as long as I’ve been in this business, you always carry a smidgen of hope that this will be the moment when the veneer cracks, and the candidate will bare his or her soul. It almost never happens. And it certainly didn’t happen this time.
“I’ve debated Marisa twice,” a very friendly and energetic Elizabeth Warren said over the phone. “It was fun. I like it. I like Marisa. And I think it’s very important we debate. And if there’s a primary (translation: if DeFranco meets the 15 percent delegate threshold at Saturday’s Democratic Convention), yes, we’ll debate.”
No sooner had Warren said that when she looked right past Marisa DeFranco to say the debates she was really looking forward to were the ones she’d like to have with Scott Brown.
“I certainly hope Scott Brown will be willing to debate,” Warren said.
At that point, we were about a minute, 10 seconds into the interview when I attempted to elicit a response about breast-feeding in New Jersey and some of the Indian stuff.
“I’m afraid I have to rush off to an availability with the governor,” Elizabeth Warren said, as she left me with a warm “thank you” and disappeared into the phone mist...On to Plan C 2.0, in which Globe resident curmudgeon Brian McGrory got the call - and had a longer (though no more illuminating) conversation:
Warren maintained that she never personally wrote herself in as Native American on any documents at Harvard, though she lacked specifics in how she informed school officials of her ancestry. “I’ve never seen any Harvard forms,’’ she said. “I don’t have forms on what they report to the federal government. I know that at some point after I was hired, I let them know.’’
Asked how Harvard came to list her as a Native American while she was a visiting professor in the 1992-1993 academic year, essentially a trial run before she was offered a tenured position, Warren replied, “I don’t recall telling them. But I never tried to hide it. I don’t want to mislead in any way on this.’’
When the question was repeated, Warren said, “I don’t know.’’
Warren’s answers were no more enlightening, though never clipped, on other fronts, notably why she told reporters on April 27 that she first learned that Harvard claimed her as a Native American by reading the Herald, only to reverse course in Wednesday night’s campaign statement that acknowledged she had informed Harvard and Penn of her self-identification.
“I misunderstood the question,’’ she said.
Similarly, asked why she never raised her Native American roots with Globe reporter Noah Bierman when he met with Warren in Oklahoma City for a three-thousand word story on her upbringing, published in February, she replied softly, “Noah didn’t ask.’’
Only minutes later, though, while waxing on her Native American heritage, she said, “It’s who I am, it’s how I grew up. It’s part of the home I grew up in. It’s me, part of me, through and through. I can’t change that.’’
To the question of when she had informed her campaign strategists of her general self-identification as a Native American, Warren said, “When it showed up in the Boston Herald. I had never raised it with anyone.’’Recap: "It's who I am, it's how I grew up... It's me, part of me, through and through..." But it isn't something Warren mentioned to anyone on her campaign?
"It's part of the home I grew up in..." But it wasn't worth mentioning to a reporter who traveled across the country to Warren's home town for a story on how she grew up?
So the print reporter thing isn't working... Step right up, WCVB TV's Janet Wu. Wu is no pol's idea of a friendly interview, but maybe the way to handle this, the campaign brain-trust must have thought, is to let renowned attorney Elizabeth Warren to head-to-head with an aggressive interlocutor, one-on-one, mano-a-mano. See the results for yourself.
First question, right out of the gate: "Are you a Cherokee." Answer: "I know who I am." And off she goes, straight downhill from there. Again.
The most telling part of the Wu interview didn't make the video clip:
Warren had previously acknowledged that she identified herself as a minority in directories of law school professors. But she could not explain on Friday why she stopped identifying herself as a minority the year she received tenure at Harvard Law School.Really, isn't that one of those things that does not need any explanation? Surely Professor Warren would recognize this bit of common legalese: Res Ipsa Loquitur. The thing speaks for itself.
When she does dare approach a press gaggle, Professor Warren is very visibly exasperated. This is not what she wants to talk about. She wants to talk about how the "middle class is getting hammered." And sure, she has some interesting things to say about that. Trouble is, Warren apparently exhausted her store of talking points months ago, during that widely-circulated meet-and-greet outburst on the inherent selfishness of greedy Capitalists. Her shtick is boring and stale. Hey! Let's talk about her ongoing self-immolation instead.
Need a reminder of just how opposite-of-believable Warren is when forced to talk about this issue? Oh, okay:
As more and more reporters comb through her background, it becomes increasingly apparent that for Professor Warren self-delusional self-aggrandizement is second nature. Some intrepid press hound recently turned up a 2011 speech in which Warren claimed to be the "first nursing mother" ever to take the bar exam in New Jersey.
Okay... First, TMI. Thanks very much. Second, does that seem even remotely likely? Or is it perhaps the case that Elizabeth Warren was the first breast-feeding mother to take the state bar in New Jersey - and then seek public recognition for it?
Now would be a good time for this candidate to go well and truly under ground, to jettison plans A, B, and C and work on something entirely different. Unfortunately for Warren, the calendar has other plans. This weekend at the Democratic state convention, which the Ds early on hoped would be a coronation but instead is increasingly shaping up as Warren's own personal Sugar Point, a group of actual Cherokee are planning to protest by standing silently outside the convention hall. Pretty much the Warren campaign's worst possible visual. And the Professor is sure to face more probing questions from the press. Maybe she'll be the first candidate in history to address the convention via written statement. They could use the jumbotron.
But no matter. Governor Patrick this week declared "on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth," that "we don't care about [the Cherokee] issue." Got that? Cease and desist. His Excellency the Governor hath spoken.
The trouble for Warren is that the poll last week that showed a majority of the voters in fact 'don't care' about the faux Cherokee issue also showed that a majority currently still believe she is in fact part Cherokee - which only proves that a majority aren't yet paying attention. It ain't so. She may have been raised with that belief. She may even still hold that belief. But at this point, that belief has been completely and thoroughly debunked.
When those trusting voters learn that not only did Warren falsely represent herself for years in a way that, indignant protestations notwithstanding, almost certainly advantaged her academic career, but she also spent the last month-plus fibbing repeatedly about it? Expect those numbers to move some.
The Herald's editors put it well: "In the end, elections are about more than issues and who will vote on which side. They are about character too. And if you lie about the little stuff, what happens when the big stuff comes along?"
Easy. You issue a midnight written statement.