The Warren-Brown Debate

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.

Today wingnut bloggers (see, for example, William Jacobson and Little Lulu) are high-fiving because Brown chose to highlight the Native American issue. They think this is a score.

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.

18 thoughts on “The Warren-Brown Debate

  1. Are the wingnuts actually afraid they have found an actual native in Elizabeth Warren. I mean, she might tell all those red-neck immigrants to self-deport.

  2. I have thought, since this first came up, that the Republicans were panicky they couldn’t find ANYTHING in Warren’s background to “expose”, so they’ve stuck with this.

  3. This “Native American” thing is insane. Insane and empty.

    Basically this debate would be a Ken doll versus Doris Kearns Goodwin or Hillary Rodham Clinton, or some other high-IQ older female (how dare she be smart?!). No way the Ken doll actually won.

    This is one Senate seat I dearly hope we win. Deb Fischer, R-Palin, can have Ben Nelson’s seat, I don’t give a damn. But I want Elizabeth Warren to kick out the big airhead and win Ted’s seat back for the good guys.

  4. some sort of dog-whistle to them

    There’s a hilarious political cartoon in the current New Yorker, modeled after those ads in the back of comic books in the 1960s. Sea monkeys, X-ray specs, you know the ones I mean. One was for the “dog whistle.” I have the print issue (yeah, I know, what a Luddite!). After work, I’ll look online for a link.

  5. I guess I’m a little rusty on my dog whistling..But If I remember correctly, Massachusetts was the state where Native-American’s first received certain tax exempt rights and compensation for tribal lands. I’m sure it pissed a lot of people off having to pay for an injustice that they didn’t feel they had created. Could be the sting of that still lingers in Massachusetts

  6. Though I was born here, I’m of Russian/Ukrainian heritage – which means, I’m 100% Native American, since, all of the Native Americans that came later, came over the land bridge from what’s now Russia!

    Do I get any reparations?
    I’m rich!
    I’m rich!
    I’m socially secure!
    I’m a happy miser!!!

    If I get that money, Republicans Party – here I come!!!

    All you you pissant Liberal whiner’s can go feck yourselves!!!

  7. I just wish there were a lot more people like her in government.

    “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 think the guys at the pub should have explained that “O’Trevelyan” wasn’t a common Irish name.

  8. It’s the Law of Diminishing Returns, Maha. The more the cons use a sneaky tactic, the more people catch on, the less effective the tactic becomes. Luckily for us, it takes the cons a long time to realize the tactic has run its course.

  9. OT -Paul Ryan, outside the FOX bubble, gets boo’d at the AARP meeting:

    I love when he says he ‘expected a mixed reaction.’
    Where were the cheers in the mix?

    If Europe doesn’t dive, and the Middle East doesn’t explode, I now think we’re going to see an Obama blow-out!
    Now, the DNCC needs to concentrate on giving him a House and Senate he can work with!

    Sadly, that’s like waiting for Godot, while you’re waiting for the 2nd Coming.

  10. I can easily see her being 20ish and thinking it was romantic to have Native American ancestors and so noting it on an app or something, and really, why would she assume her mother was wrong? We’ve assumed that my mother’s paternal ancestor (who we knew had found in the American Revolution) was English until I found a tree that included him – turns out his ancestor arrived in the New World as a teenager from Germany and at some point the name had been Anglicized.

    If it gets passed down, no one researches to see if it is true unless they happen to pick up genealogy as a hobby /shrug

  11. There was a big issue with the Cherokee Indians not recognizing Warren as a tribal member. But, accepting Johnny Deep, because he is playing “Tonto” in the new Lone Ranger film. They have a very arbitrary way of determining membership. She is probably 1/32 Cherokee. He partially wanted to claim she got special consideration in affirmative action because she is a person of color.
    Senator Brown raised the issue to set up his aruement that Warren is a chronic liar. He kept saying “she’s lying” after that.

  12. I worked with a fellow who had Cherokee ancestors. He was 1/32nd NA and the family was accepted as belonging to the tribe. He could have signed up for inclusion on the tribal roll and gotten a whole bunch of benefits but he decided not to. He felt it was nice to know his ancestral background but he didn’t really have anything to do with the tribe now. The 1/32 was, he thought, a bit thin on relationship.

  13. Whether Elizabeth Warren has Native -American ancestry or not, it doesn’t change the fact that 47% of the American public are irresponsible parasites. I’ve never been one to think I’m better than others, but I’m a registered Independent, responsible and I do think. So by Mitt’s calculations I’m only a partial parasite. Not like some of you full blooded parasites.

  14. I am an American Indian. And, while this term is a misnomer, most people know what I am talking about and it is term I prefer. I interpret native American as someone born in the USA, which is most every one on this blog. Capitalizing the “N” in native doesn’t change the meaning. I am a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians in the State of Washington. My blood quantum is about three-fourths. There are very few FBI’s (full-blooded Indians) in this country in 2012. In fact, I had last heard that the number may probably be no more than 10. I worked for Indian Health Service (IHS) for over 20 years. I worked with many, many other Indians from many, many tribes. It is said to be Cherokee all you have to do is rub shoulders with one and you will be part Cherokee. However, the reason for this has to do with one of this country’s more repugnant actions known as the Trail of Tears. I could write a whole essay on this issue; but, will try to trim my thoughts for this comment. It is always a non-Indian who makes statements like Brown’s about color and ethnicity. It is a person who is very ignorant of another race that they are biased against for unstated reasons. There are over 500 Federally recognized American Indian tribes. There are many tribes who are not recognized by the Federal Government; but, I recognize them out of respect as people who do not need a “white man” to tell them who they are. During many early censuses taken by the Government, AI’s were not counted. There are many tribes (mostly east coast tribes) totally extinct. There are many records in the National Archives that would assist in knowing better who are Indian descendants; but, many have never been cataloged. If they did get cataloged, they still may not be complete because when they were filled out claiming AI heritage would mean many negative things could come your way. There are tribes, specifically in the Northwest, who are not as dark as other tribes throughout the U.S. After all, who needs all that dark skin to keep you safe from all the rain out here. And, last, as someone who has used my heritage in affirmative actions situations and have always been proud of my AI heritage, I know that to receive any consideration from any Government agency or any employer for your AI heritage, you have to prove you are one-fourth AI or more. Thus, I doubt that Warren benefited from her 1/32 blood quantum at all. She appears to be proud of her AI heritage as she should be. This issue since it was first raised by Brown has irritated me greatly. It is just as racist as many denigrations aimed at President Obama. As you can see, the issue is more complicated. And, when you get to Warren’s generation and my generation, the Mendalian laws of genetics kick in. If there are blues eyes running around a family tree that is predominantly brown-eyed, one in four children will have blue eyes. I am the one in four children. My three siblings and both my parents all have the stereotypical AI “look” and I am blue-eyed and fair-skinned. It is difficult growing up as the “odd-looking” child. Life as an American Indian is difficult, too, and we face discrimination in many, many ways. My dad for a very long time was refused life insurance because he was AI. I think this is where I will leave the issue for now. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Scott Brown needs to be asked just exactly what does an American Indian “look” like.

  15. I grew up with a Native grandmother in the family legend, and one of my brothers was told she was an Indian Princess. We never found her. Until last December. One of my nephews stumbled across the proof. I had assumed Cherokee because Cherokees had been cross marrying for many years longer than many other tribes, but not: She was Iroquois, and while not exactly a Princess, the daughter of a very important Chief who was the Iroquois Ambassador to Pennsylvania. She and two of her brothers were named (surname) Logan after the Quaker governor he dealt with, and obviously liked. A five greats grandmother! Was nice to know, somehow. And yep, always included her in my sense of my heritage.

    Scott Brown is a silly silly pinup boy. Period.

  16. Has Romney claimed any ancestral ties to Sacajawea yet? He can attempt to kill two birds with one stone by making that claim.

  17. Pingback: The Mahablog » Arrested Development

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