Elizabeth Warren is twisting herself in rhetorical knots, as she tries to talk her way out of this one:
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic contender for the party’s presidential nomination in 2020, was facing new fallout Wednesday after the Washington Post reported that on a 1986 registration card for the State Bar of Texas she identified as “American Indian.”
The revelation prompted yet another apology from Warren, who told the Post she “can’t go back,” and change her decision but that she is “sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.”
During a gaggle with reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Warren apologized further for “not being more sensitive to tribal citizenship and tribal sovereignty.”
“I really want to underline tribes and only tribes determine tribal citizenship. It’s an issue of tribal sovereignty,” she said.
Asked why she listed herself as “American Indian” on the form, to begin with, Warren explained “this is our family story” and did not rule out that there may be other similar documents.
“When I was growing up in Oklahoma, I learned about my family the same way most people do. My brothers and I learned from our mom and our dad and our brothers and our sisters. They were family stories,” she said. “But that said, there really is an important distinction of tribal citizenship. I’m not a member of a tribe. I have apologized for not being more sensitive to that. It’s an important thing.”
In the context of 1986 (when people were far less touchy about this sort of thing), this isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.
There are many basically white Americans who have been told that they have a Native American great-great-great grandparent back there in the gene pool. For some white Americans, there is clearly a bit of romanticism attached to distant Native American ancestry. I don’t doubt that Warren heard such “family stories” while growing up.
That said, my great-great-grandmother’s origins in County Cork, Ireland don’t make me eligible for Irish citizenship. Even if Warren does genuinely have long-ago Native American roots (or believes she does), they are a tiny part of her DNA. She isn’t a Native American to any significant degree.
This was obviously a cynical attempt to stretch the truth in order to qualify as a minority, and thereby take advantage of various programs designed for real minorities.
Again, this is something that people used to do all the time. One of my college friends was about 1/8th Cherokee. He listed his ethnicity as “Native American” when applying for graduate school in 1990. No one batted an eye.
In 1986, Elizabeth Warren likely didn’t know that she was going to have presidential aspirations more than three decades hence. Nor did Ralph Northam likely imagine that he would one day be Governor of Virginia, when he posed for that ridiculous photo back in 1984. (Or, as he now says, when he darkened his skin for a Michael Jackson dance contest.)
But these are different times, and there is zero tolerance for any deviation from accepted narratives and orthodoxies regarding the politics of race, sexuality, and gender.
This is true even if you’re a Democrat who wants to soak the rich (like Elizabeth Warren), or make abortion legal until a kid graduates from high school (like Ralph Northam).
Warren and Northam probably won’t be the last two politicians to get bitten by the less uptight 1980s, as we approach the election season of the very uptight year of 2020.