Republicans won’t let go of Warren’s ancestry issue

Massachusetts Democratic Senate Candidate Elizabeth Warren after speaking at the 31st annual ‘Noho Pride Celebration’ in Northampton. (Photo: Alex Ross).

 The latest controversy on what if any role Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s Native American ancestry played in  her hiring as a Professor,  is  a story on which Republicans are not letting go. 

Almost every day for more than two weeks, the Brown campaign or a Republican surrogate has highlighted the latest bit of news to emerge on the subject, often citing articles on conservative websites in a bid to coax more coverage from the mainstream news media. Warren’s failure to offer a full and concise answer on what role her ancestry has played in her professional career has left an opening that has allowed the questions to linger.

On Monday, Brown’s campaign manager, Jim Barnett, held a telephone briefing with reporters, offering a near exhaustive catalogue of details about the issue and demanding anew that Warren release personnel records from her jobs at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania law schools.

“The question here is not about Elizabeth Warren’s credentials, so much as it is about Elizabeth Warren’s integrity and truthfulness and willingness to be transparent,’’ Barnett said.

Warren refused again Monday to make her Harvard and UPenn personnel records available, as did the universities themselves.

Warren, a national leader in the field of bankruptcy law, has repeatedly pointed to statements from deans and recruiting faculty at the schools where she has worked that said her heritage was not a factor in her hiring.

In a CNN interview Monday, she called the issue a diversion.

“It’s now the case that people have gone over my college records, my law school records, every job I’ve ever had to see that I got my work,’’ she said. “I got my jobs because I do my work. I work hard. I’ve been a good teacher.’’

At the 31st  annual Pride Parade in Northampton on Saturday May 12, where Professor Warren took to the stage and lauded the President’s for coming out earlier in the week (no pun intended) as personally in favor of  gay marriage. I asked her if she had anything more to say about this before she was whisked away by her staff.

I have little more to say on this but to add my voice to the chorus of those who say this was handled poorly when the Warren camp didn’t offer a clear and consistent explanation right away.  Brown’s campaign is using this as a cudgel. They know that  between Warren’s  populism against Wall Street, her status as a political outsider in a year when the word ‘incumbent’ is an epithet, and it being a Presidential election year when turnout will be higher than in 2010 and President Obama is all but guaranteed to win the state; Brown has to worry.

Many on the former Harvard law professor’s campaign staff as well as her supporters likely think of this issue as trivial or a media generated nuisance. But  Brown  appears to be trying to do two things by highlighting it.  First, it allows Brown to use the issue to illustrate what many of the older and more conservative leaning working class whites see as the absurdity and injustice of affirmative action or other practices used to increase the racial and ethnic diversity in employment.

Secondly contrary to the reports that her heritage was not a factor and the accounts of  Charles Fried— a former Warren colleague at Harvard Law and U.S Solicitor General for the Reagan administration— that Warren who heralds the virtues of equality, social justice and economic won her positions in academia using her heritage rather than winning them on merit; and that her earlier statement that she didn’t list her Native American ancestry when applying for her position at Harvard.

Whether or not it is a strategy that will work is uncertain. Polls still show a very fluid and tight race.  But its something the Brown campaign and their supporters are running with.But this is a time when perceptions of each candidate are beginning to harden.


Editor’s Note:You can read all about my opinions, aggregated information, and more at the ‘Dispatch’s new politics page


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