Mel Brooks once joked that he wrote a self-help book titled, “You Are What You Are If You Think You Are.” It was a clever nod to how many people will claim to be something they are not. On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren attempted to once and for all prove a decades old claim of hers that she is a Native American. The senator released the results of a DNA test that concluded that she was 1/1,024 Cherokee.
In response, Americans once again sided mostly along partisan lines, with Republicans mocking Warren and Democrats defending her. The latter have implied that Warren’s entire ordeal is similar to former President Obama and his birth certificate, as well as that President Trump is responsible for this being a controversy in the first place. Neither are accurate statements.
The issue first came to light in her Senate run in 2012, when it emerged that Warren was listed as a minority and was classified as Harvard Law School’s “first woman of color” professor. Warren’s claim to minority status? Her Cherokee ancestry. When it was revealed, Warren chose to defend the assertion and stand by it, saying that she had been told that she was Native American by her parents and because members of her family had “high cheekbones.”
Scott Brown, her opponent and then incumbent senator, used this revelation against her in an ad and debates, noting how it demonstrated that it was part of a pattern of dishonesty on Warren’s part. Further, questions arose about whether or not Warren made the claim in order to give herself a leg up in the hiring process because, at the time of her hiring at Harvard, there was tremendous pressure that the law school hire more minorities to serve as professors.
While she went on to soundly defeat Brown, the controversy stuck: Republican activists and pundits would often mockingly refer to her as “Fauxcahontas,” a play on the famous Native American Pocahontas.
Adding weight to the evidence that Warren made the Native American heritage claim is the fact that her Oklahoma Hall of Fame page does not state anywhere that she is Cherokee or Native American. Instead, it notes that she “she proudly tells everyone she encounters that she is ‘an Okie to my toes.’” It was odd that she neglected her Native American background here since the Cherokee are a big part of Oklahoma’s history and, according to Warren herself, her own identity.
Donald Trump did not wade into the controversy until May 6, 2016 — four years after Republicans had begun to mock Warren’s heritage claims. Responding to a March 2016 Facebook post of Warren’s that called him a “serious threat” to the United States and its values, Trump tweeted, “Goofy Elizabeth Warren and her phony Native American heritage are on a Twitter rant. She is too easy! I’m driving her nuts.” Every since, he has regularly called her Pocahontas (which is Trump mangling the “Fauxcahontas” joke).
Both Trump’s birtherism and mocking Warren’s heritage claims came from him taking up an already potent line of attack and becoming the loudest voice delivering it. However, the similarities stop there. The birtherism was an egregious and disgusting display of racism that was designed to delegitimize and call into question the constitutional qualifications of the first African American president in American history. Trump and others promoted their conspiracy theory as Barack Obama engaging in some form of deceit of the American people. Shameful does not begin to describe Trump’s championing of this abhorrent movement.
However, Elizabeth Warren is a far different story. Her claim of Native American heritage is one that does indeed go toward character and honesty. In 1984, the Five Civilized Tribes Museum published “Pow Wow Chow,” a cookbook containing recipes from members of five Native American tribes. Warren contributed to the book — adding further fuel to the debate over her credibility and honesty was how the recipes Warren submitted were seemingly plagiarized from newspapers — and was identified as “Elizabeth Warren, Cherokee,” which implied membership in the Cherokee Nation. Since, she shifted to saying that she is of Cherokee or Native American heritage/descent and never actively promoted herself as such — which begs the question then why did she permit others close to her to do so?
And because of how Warren was listed by both Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, it is clear that her claim of being Cherokee in “Pow Wow Chow” was not a one off instance, but rather a repeated and continued declaration made over the course of at least two decades and then resuscitated yesterday.
Now, in what many see as a build up to a 2020 presidential campaign, Warren is trying to remove this line of attack from the arsenal of her opponents. However, her strategy seems to have blown up in her face. Yesterday, the Cherokee Nation released a blistering statement that accused Senator Warren of “dishonoring” the tribe and its people, as well as “undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.” Last night, in response to the Cherokee Nation, Warren tweeted, “DNA & family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation or citizenship,” and then switched to a the rhetorical weapon of the weak: whataboutism, by attacking Trump’s overall record.
Warren’s entire strategy for resolving her rather tenuous claim to being a minority is befuddling and political malpractice. Not only did she double down on something that strains credulity, she did so in a manner that gives her opponents more ammunition against her. Even NBC News’ Craig Melvin noted the ridiculousness of Warren’s claim when he joked on air, “I might be just as Native American as she is.”
And then Jim Messina, who served as President Obama’s campaign manager in 2012, who questioned why Warren and her team would try to get rid of this story 22 days before the midterm elections. It distracted from the message that Democrats were sharing with voters, while giving Republican voters something to get excited about. From a purely timing perspective, it revealed Warren and her team to be a single A ball club trying to play at the MLB level.
Yes, the most vocal critic of Warren’s claim to Native American heritage is Donald Trump, a man who is not known for his fidelity to the truth. However, the fact that he is a liar does not mean that Senator Warren should be given a pass when Trump questions her truthfulness. It is fair to point out the hypocrisy of the president doing so, but it does not warrant dismissing the charge.
Senator Warren’s entire claim to being a Cherokee and/or having Native American heritage is outright ridiculous. Her conscious decision to perpetuate it for decades and continue to do so up until today raises questions about her honesty and character. Despite a DNA test showing a paucity of Native American blood, she has demonstrated she read Mel Brooks’ nonexistent book, “You Are What You Are If You Think You Are.”
Her stubborn insistence that she In her quixotic quest to inoculate herself against a weakness and potent line of attack of her opponents, Elizabeth Warren has managed to only hurt herself and cause the Cherokee Nation to make clear that she is not one of them. At the end of the day, Warren cannot blame Scott Brown, Republicans, the media or Donald Trump for her troubles stemming from her claim of being a Cherokee/Native American, she only has herself to blame.