The Smearing of Elizabeth Warren

Until today, I was only vaguely aware that Scott Brown’s campaign and its allies were trying to make a big deal out of Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s past self-identification (and once, her identification by Harvard Law School) as a “Native American.” It mainly caught my attention because, like Warren (and for that matter, like many white people I’ve known from North Georgia or Oklahoma), I have a Cherokee ancestor, a great-great-grandmother as it happpens, though I’ve never self-identified myself that way.

Then I ran across a Boston Herald (the original source of the whole story) column by a certain Howie Carr that shows exactly how ugly and overtly racial this attack-line has become. It’s not, in fact, really about Elizabeth Warren, but about an increasingly aggressive effort on the Right to invent a nightmare-world where incompetent women and minorities are lording it over the poor afflicted white male.

Keep in mind that there is not a shred of evidence that Warren ever benefitted in any way from her self-identification; indeed, every university who’s hired her in the course of her very distinguished academic career has indicated they weren’t even aware of it, and certainly didn’t make it a factor in employing her.

That doesn’t deter Carr from asserting that “Pocohantas” Warren “parlayed the racial-spoils racket all the way to a tenured position at Harvard Law,” or that her case “shows just how morally and intellectually bankrupt ‘affirmative action’ is.” For good measure, he lurches into an equally unsubstantiated claim that President Obama got a “free pass to Columbia and Harvard Law” because of his race.

Look, I can understand how people can legitimately question this or that aspect of academic affirmative action policies, but this seething hatred against any woman or minority member who has won a measure of success in a system where white men still massively, overwhelmingly run the country is just bizarre. Anyone looking at Barack Obama or Elizabeth Warren and immediately seeing the beneficiary of a “spoils racket” is just deranged beyond redemption–or perhaps, in Carr’s case, just cynical beyond belief.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.