I didn’t watch the Elizabeth Warren-Scott Brown debate yesterday, but judging from the comments I’ve read there was no clear-cut “winner.” I suspect people inclined to vote for Warren liked her debate performance, and people inclined to vote for Brown liked his.
The question is, assuming there are a couple of undecided voters in Massachusetts somewhere, what might they have thought? We’ll see if there are any changes in the polls in a couple of days; currently, Warren has a slight lead.
For anyone who really doesn’t pay much attention to politics until elections are at hand, one part of the debate may have seemed downright weird — Scott Brown’s initial shot at Elizabeth Warren was to criticize her claim of being part Native American on her mother’s side. “Professor Warren [he always called her Professor Warren] claimed she was a Native American, a person of color. And as you can see, she’s not,” Brown said.
Warren responded by saying she had always been told by her family her mother was part Cherokee and Delaware, and she had no reason to doubt her mother. I understand no one has been able to confirm or debunk the story. Brown continued to push the issue in order to question Warren’s character, however.
Maybe it’s me, but I see no reason why anyone would give a hoo-haw about this. One, it’s not at all unusual for people who look entirely “white” to find out they had nonwhite ancestors. I suspect it’s true of most of us; we’re all mutts, really.
Second, it’s entirely possible that Elizabeth Warren’s mother has no Native American in her at all, and the Cherokee/Delaware thing is just some romantic family legend. It happens. I once met a guy who believed all his life one of his grandfathers was Irish, but after he retired he researched the family genealogy and found out Grandpa was English, and he had no connection to Ireland at all.
I remember my (fair and blue-eyed) mother telling me that there was a Native American on her family tree, somewhere, but she wasn’t sure who it was. Family legend on my Ma’s side says there were some slave-owning Confederates, also, and I haven’t been able to identify them, either. This could all be somebody’s fanciful notion that somehow was passed on to the young folks.
I also understand that it used to be common for mostly white people with some African-American ancestry to explain their appearance by claiming to be part “Indian.” A lot of family legends of Cherokee ancestors may have started that way. I’m not saying that’s what happened with Elizabeth Warren, but it’s a possibility.
And as long as she’s not trying to claim a portion of casino profits, who the bleep cares? Yes, there is an implication that Warren claimed nonwhite status to get preferential treatment when she was being considered for a teaching position at Harvard in 1995. But Harvard denies this. And if she were unsuited for the position, I suspect someone would have noticed by now. And, y’know, didn’t they get a look at her in an interview?
But if you ever follow the rightie bloggers, you’d know this Native American heritage thing is a BIG DEAL to them. They went ON AND ON AND ON about it for weeks, I swear. You’d think they had found out she was an escaped felon. And this was the very first issue Scott Brown chose to bring up in the debate. It dominated some of the headlines.
But I’m thinking an uncommitted voter who is not steeped in the Wingnut Worldview would find it puzzling that Brown even brought it up. I’m saying it’s one of those things you’d have to be a wingnut to care about at all. Obviously it’s some sort of dog-whistle to them, but it’s not entirely clear to me what they’re whistling about.
The Right used to be really good at creating a Big Deal out of some innocuous thing and using it to swing elections. (John Kerry windsurfs! Al Gore wears earth tones!), but lately it doesn’t seem to be working for them. I could be wrong, though, especially since I’m watching this from outside Massachusetts. We’ll see if the polls change direction.