Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sorry, Gov. Patrick, but we do care.

At a hastily-arranged Wednesday afternoon press conference, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick gave his pre-convention endorsement to Elizabeth Warren in the race for U.S. Senate.

There's no question that Patrick's endorsement, and the unusual timing of it, were hastened by the growing controversy surrounding Warren's claims of Native American heritage.

Yet, when Warren was asked about the controversy at yesterday's press conference, Governor Patrick reportedly stepped in and responded, "On behalf of the people of the Commonwealth, we don't care about that question." (Boston Globe story)

Well, guess what? On behalf of the people of the Commonwealth, we suggest to the Governor that we do, indeed, care about that question.

Here's why.

Warren's claims of Cherokee ancestry amount to a character issue because they go either to her ability to tell the truth or her willingness to use such claims for undue professional gain.

The basic question for Warren is: Did she know, or is it reasonable to say she should have known, whether or not she is of Cherokee descent?

If Professor Warren has known all along that she is not actually part Cherokee, then she lied to Harvard University and to the people of Massachusetts by claiming repeatedly that she is. We're not saying this is necessarily the case, but if it is, then she should clearly drop out of the race for U.S. Senate.

If instead Professor Warren has honestly believed all along that she is indeed part Cherokee, whether or not that's actually true, then her case is possibly more sympathetic.

Or is it?

Even the Boston Globe has admitted that, although Warren "continues to consider herself Native American, she has not provided any genealogical evidence," and she has not met federal standards for the definition of a "Native American" that require both ancestry and an official affiliation with a tribe or community. (Boston Globe story) Can such a belief really be considered reasonable?

This brings us to the question of motive. Here is what Elizabeth Warren herself said about her claims of American Indian ancestry, which she admitted listing in the directory of the Association of American Law Schools from 1986 to 1995:

"I listed myself in the directory in the hopes that it might mean that I would be invited to a luncheon, a group, something that might happen with people who are like I am," she told reporters in a credit union in Braintree. "Nothing like that ever happened. That was clearly not the use for it. And so I stopped checking it off. That was it." (WBUR story)

This, coming from the same person who claims, "there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody." (CBS News story)

Even if Professor Warren is indeed part Cherokee, her Native American ancestral claim is only 1/32 of her background (3.125%). (see Boston Herald story) It seems like a stretch to make such a claim for professional purposes, even if it's historically accurate. We're talking about more than just family folklore and pride here. We’re talking about someone who asserted her heritage as a tenured professor at one of the world's most prestigious universities and who is now running for one of the most elite political posts in the world based on her professional experience.

Stretching the truth for personal gain is still wrong. For example, take the case of New Hampshire House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, who recently resigned his office. His misdeed: claiming in law school application papers that he interned in the law office of a fellow House member, when in fact he only worked there for about an hour. (WCVB story)

The controversy also adds to a pattern of outlandish claims by Professor Warren during the campaign, including assertions that she "created much of the intellectual foundation for what [Occupy movement members] do," (Daily Beast story) and that she was "the first nursing mother to take a bar exam in the state of New Jersey" (WTAM story).

What claim will come next from Professor Warren? Maybe it's a Harvard thing. Remember fellow Harvard alum Al Gore, who supposedly invented the Internet and served as the inspiration for the movie Love Story? It's a good thing the former Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg's IPO didn't work, or else Warren would probably be claiming to be the third Winklevoss twin who invented Facebook.

We'll have to wait to see.