Elizabeth Warren’s Struggle With Truth

June 3, 2012

Whatever else can be said about Elizabeth Warren, one thing is certain:  she is no less than 96.875% white.

And yet Warren, the anointed Democratic nominee for the Massachusetts Senate race, has presented herself for decades as a Cherokee Indian to the public, to professional organizations, and to employers.  This despite no hard evidence, only family lore foggily recalled from childhood.

Ever since the story broke on April 27th, Warren’s heritage controversy has blotted out all other aspects of the campaign.  Warren’s detractors see it as indicative of her untrustworthiness, while her supporters insist it is all much ado about nothing.  The media has, with few exceptions, been reluctant to cover the story at all, much less dig deep, and even then, has rarely gotten the details straight.  So, before passing judgement on Warren, a closer look at the facts is in order.

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Is Warren Really a Cherokee?

Given their turbulent, tragic legacy of ethnic cleansing and forced assimilation, the several Native American tribes face a daunting task in the preservation & revival of a fragile, once fading culture.  In defining their community, they must balance inclusiveness with dedication to values.

Every Tribe, Band or Nation has its own admission requirements, all based on some ancestral link.  While many “official” Indians may look white and have white names, each has made a life-long commitment to immerse themselves in, and work to keep vibrant, their respective culture, language, and national identity.

Warren admits she never formally applied for Cherokee citizenship.  A good call, as Warren’s ancestry fails the citizenship test of the three Federally-recognized Cherokee tribes.  The largest, The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, has no “blood quantum” standard, but does require the applicant have at least one ancestor listed on the Dawes Rolls, a 1906 federal census of Cherokees.  It’s important to stress that what’s being defined is not membership in an ethnic group, rather citizenship in a sovereign nation.  The Cherokee Constitution is explicit on this, and the Dawes Rolls enumerated many freedmen who’d joined the tribe, as well as whites who’d intermarried.  Warren’s allegedly Cherokee great-great-great-grandmother, O.C. Smith, died in the mid 19th century. Neither of  Warren’s maternal ancestors alive when the Dawes Rolls were compiled, John H. Crawford and Hannie Crawford, appear anywhere on them.

Warren would also be rejected by the United Keetoowah Band, which, in addition to a Dawes Rolls ancestor, requires its citizens possess at least 1/4 quarter Cherokee blood.

The 1/16 blood quantum requirement often mentioned by the media is for the Eastern Band of Cherokee  of North Carolina, which also requires an ancestor listed on the Baker Roll.  Warren, at best of 1/32nd Cherokee descent (or, as she most recently intimated, 1/64th), and lacking a Baker roll ancestor, would not be permitted to join this tribe, either.

As a fall-back, Warren could have paid the $35 fee to submit her genealogy to the Cherokee Heritage Documentation Center in hopes of receiving a Declaration of Cherokee Heritage “suitable for framing” that would allow her “to display and be proud of [her] heritage,” while shielding her “from being labeled a ‘wannabe Indian’ rather than someone seeking their true heritage.”

Even here, Warren may have struck out.  Frantic efforts to unearth documentation confirming Smith’s Cherokee status have come up with nothing, other than evidence that Warren’s great-great-great grandfather may have belonged to a local militia that participated in the notorious “Trail of Tears”, the brutal relocation of the Cherokee to Oklahoma.

Cherokee historian and genealogist, Twila Barnes, offers convincing evidence that the sole scrap of documentation for Warren’s claim, a marriage license listing Hannie Crawford, Warren’s grandmother’s, race as “Indian”, actually lists her residence as “Indian Territory.”  Warren’s “mammaw” was just another white Sooner who stole land from the Cherokee.
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Does Warren Have the Right to Call Herself Cherokee?

None of this matters to Warren, who choses to ‘self-identify’ based on vague family lore. “Being Native American has been part of my story I guess since the day I was born,” gushed Warren.  “I still have a picture on my mantel … of my grandfather. And my Aunt Bea has walked by that picture at least a 1,000 times remarked that he – her father, my Papaw — had high cheek bones like all of the Indians do.”

The exotic notion of being a secret indian princess must have proved irresistible to the plain, bookish daughter of a janitor.   Yet Warren also nurtured this fantasy as an adult, listing herself as “Cherokee” when contributing WASPy recipes like crab dip with mayonnaise to a fundraising cookbook with the kitschy title “Pow Wow Chow.”

Nothing offends actual tribal members more than “Pretendians” who, for cachet, claim Indian ancestry, but have no desire to participate in tribal life.  “If you’re going to claim it, you have to help your people out,” admonishes Rhonda LeValdo, president of the Native American Journalists Association.  “Don’t just use it when you want to use it.”

In direct response to Warren’s claims, Barnes and another prominent figure in the Cherokee community, David Cornsilk, have formed a group  to convey their sense that “false claims like Elizabeth Warren is making are harmful to the Cherokee people.”  No one, they feel, “has the right to try to rewrite it or make up fictitious stories so they can fit in it or take advantage of it.”

What did Warren Claim and When?

One can, of course, acknowledge one’s Native American ancestry without professing to Native American identity.  Warren, who is at best 3.125% Indian (see update below), has the right to embarrass herself at cocktail parties by saying she’s a Cherokee.  Nor is there any law that prevents a person, whose family tree is pure white for four generations, to fancy themselves a member of an Indian tribe.  Definitely odd-ball, but not illegal.

Warren’s assertions would have fallen merely into the realm of tacky or kooky, had she not also listed herself  as a minority in a professional directory frequently referenced by hiring deans.  It has been confirmed that, even while depicting herself as a minority in the law professors’ directory, Warren listed herself as “white” on her U Texas application.  Warren has reluctantly confessed to telling two of her employers, Penn and Harvard, that she was a minority.  Warren insists this played no role in her hiring, something the schools officially verify.  Both Penn and Harvard, though, listed her as a minority on federally-mandated diversity hiring reports.

This is a clear violation of Federal Affirmative Action hiring policy, which stipulates that a Native American is “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North America, and who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community recognition.”  (My emphasis.)  Accepting a recipe cribbed off of Martha Stewart does not count as “community recognition.”
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Dances With Lies

Since the story broke, Warren has issued a series of explanations, each one contradicting the previous.  Initially, she denied ever listing herself as a minority.  When that was proven false, she insisted it was in hopes of being “invited to a luncheon, a group or something with people who are like I am,” but abandoned the practice when no one asked her out.   Yet, since she was only listed as a generic “minority” (h/t Legal Insurrection), how did she expect to connect with fellow 31/32nd non-indian law profs to share memories of sticking turkey feathers in their hair as little girls?

Warren next denied she even knew her employers had listed her as a minority.  “I think I read it on the front page of the Herald,” Warren responded, when asked about Harvard’s having promoted her purported minority status.  When this was also proven false, Warren claimed she’d misunderstood the ‘When did you first learn…?’ part of the reporter’s question.

Faced with persistent demands for clarification, Warren re-shuffled the facts, creating a tale in which, while she had listed herself as a minority in a directory, she’d never told her prospective employers she was a Cherokee.  When that was exposed as untrue, Warren insisted she only told Penn (1987), and Harvard (1992) after being hired — each time in passing, to make chit-chat over lunch.

In politics, this is known as “spin”.  In the real world, it’s called getting caught making shit up.  No wonder wags have dubbed Warren “Lie-awatha” and “Dances With Lies.”
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Is Warren Fit For Public Office?

Warren’s performance under this character test is disconcerting for a number of reasons.

First, her inept handling of the accelerating controversy raises doubt as to whether Warren, a life-long academician and political tyro, has the chops for a Senate campaign.  Her refusal to promptly to tackle the crisis head-on (her literal fleeing from reporters and slamming doors in their faces evoked memories of John Edwards cowering in a toilet stall), was belatedly followed by series of stumbling, unconvincing retractions.

Second, her rapidly-shifting story indicates a comfort with mendacity all too common among today’s office-seekers.  More alarming, Warren’s struggle with truth is not limited to her Cherokee claims, but rather pervades every aspect of her public persona.

Trying to establish her hard-scrabble origins, the wealthy, Ivy-League academic told a story about her grandmother, who “drove a wagon in the land rush to settle territory out west. It was 1889, she was 15 years old…She lived to be 94, to see her youngest grandchild -– that’s me -– graduate from college.…”  Except her Sooner “mammaw”, mentioned above, died nearly a decade before Warren graduated.  It was Warren’s other grandmother who attended her graduation.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve never mixed up my grandmothers.

Warren’s chief selling point is her reputation as a “watchdog” over fraudulent mortgage practices, someone who identifies with and protects struggling home owners “being hammered” by predatory lenders.  Yet now comes the revelation that during the 1990’s, Warren made hefty profits ‘flipping’ foreclosed houses she and her brother bought on the cheap.  And she financed this enterprise with an interest-free loan from Harvard.

A recently dug-up video clip shows Warren declaring, in all earnestness, that she was “the first nursing mother to take the bar,”  perhaps just in the State of New Jersey, perhaps in the History of Western Civilization.  As one of her fellow law students observed, since the NJ Bar most assuredly does not track statistics on breast feeding, how can Warren make this claim?   Of the few plausible explanations, the least-damaging is that someone at the time cracked wise, ‘Gee, Liz, you must be the first …’ and Warren’s fertile imagination later transformed it into a bullet point for her CV.

Scott Brown and Co. have another five months to poke around for more.
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Donnie Darko for Senate

All this leaves one with the impression of Warren as a fabulist disturbingly out of touch with reality.  Here is an adult professional, an Ivy-league professor & former head of a federal regulatory agency, who for decades has indulged in a self-aggrandizing childhood fantasy.  It leaves one with a queasiness not unlike if, during a stump speech, a candidate gave a shout-out to their long-time supporter and imaginary friend.

When caught lying, your typical candidate at first denies it, then, if that doesn’t work, ‘fesses up and tries to move on.  Yet Warren’s inability to admit she’s not really an Indian princess is seemingly pathological:

“It’s who I am, it’s how I grew up. It’s me, part of me, through and through. I can’t change that.’’

“I won’t deny who I am, I won’t deny my heritage.”

“This was real in my life. I can’t deny my heritage. I can’t and I won’t.”

These soul-baring plaints were uttered by Warren just Friday, when, instead of putting the issue to rest, she felt compelled to fly to Oklahoma and stand in front of her childhood home to spin a new yarn about her parents needing to elope because her mother was part (1/16) Cherokee and Delaware.  (Now it’s Delaware, too?)  It took but a few hours before the breitbarters exposed this as yet another confection of Lizzie’s fertile imagination.  For their nuptials, it seems, Warren’s parents traveled all of 14 miles to the county seat, to be wed by the local minister.
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A “Liberal Champion?”

Is this is the best the Dems can do?  Is an inexperienced, completely un-vetted, thoroughly nutty professor really their idea of a “Liberal Champion” to lift the Mongol Yoke from Teddy’s seat?  If so, the Democratic Party is hopelessly inept and on its last legs.

In fact, Bay State Dems did have a viable alternative to the hapless, flawed, mendacious Warren.  Someone with a true liberal platform, a confident, feisty, yet endearing charm, a seemingly impeccable background, plus actual experience running for office.  Sounds great?  No, actually, because Dem big-wigs treated this fellow Democrat like the enemy.  Her name is Marisa DeFranco, and this weekend, party leaders took unprecedented steps to ensure that the voters of Massachusetts would have no chance to reject the anointed Warren.

We’ll look next at why Marisa DeFranco so frightened the Dem Machine.

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UPDATE ( 6/5/12):

*  In response to my inquiries, Twila Barnes confirmed that her research team did a thorough search of the Dawes Rolls and found not a single Warren ancestor on them.  Nor can a Warren ancestor be found on any of the two dozen existing rolls, lists, musters or censuses of Cherokee;

* Barnes has also just completed an exhaustive study of Warren’s entire family tree — something Warren herself never deemed necessary — proving that every single Warren ancestor going back for five generations was listed on records as “white.”   For those of you who are fractionally-challenged, that makes Warren 0/32nds, or ZERO PERCENT, American Indian;

* Warren, insisting that Aunt Bea’s just-so fables trump cold, hard facts, sticks to her jalousie of Cherokee heritage.  In a WBZ interview, Warren declared that if elected, she’d be the first senator from Massachusetts “so far as I know who has Native American heritage”;

* At the blog Cherokees Demand Truth From Elizabeth Warren, Barnes has granted Warren’s long-time wish, an invitation to a luncheon date with a real live Cherokee Indian.  To date, Warren has not accepted.

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(c) 2012 by True Liberal Nexus.  All rights reserved.

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