Sunday, May 27, 2018


CNN reported yesterday on Elizabeth Warren's efforts to "defang" the "Pocahontas" slur:
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has quietly waged a months-long, behind-the-scenes effort to put "Pocahontas" in the past.

President Donald Trump has used the slur since the 2016 presidential campaign to skewer her claims -- passed down through family stories, Warren says -- of Cherokee and Delaware ancestry.

Warren delivered her most forceful rebuttal yet during a speech at the National Congress of American Indians in February. The speech opened a new chapter of Warren leaning into her heritage -- a move that could help her defuse a political landmine ahead of a potential 2020 presidential run by building goodwill with Native American leaders who could validate her claims and vouch for her advocacy on issues important to their communities....

Since March, Warren has met 16 times with Native American groups and tribal leaders, at times bringing up the issue in those meetings. Warren also attended Cherokee Day in Washington and toured Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma.

Warren has also signed onto 13 bills directly affecting Native American tribes in the last year and in April introduced a bill that would provide $800 million annually to tribal governments as part of a 10-year, $100-billion package to fight the opioid epidemic.
Why does Warren think this will solve the problem? The right-wingers who mock her by calling her Pocahontas don't do it because they care about Native Americans, any more than the right-wingers who mocked Rachel Dolezal for being a white woman who claimed to be black did so because they cared about black people. (Yeah, we all mocked Dolezal, but I'm focusing on conservatives now.) Right-wingers believe that Warren knowingly lied about her heritage and gained employment advantages as a result. (If you want to sift through the evidence, The Washington Post has a good explainer.) To the right, this is everything wrong with liberals: We hate white people even if (or especially if) we're white, and we think non-whiteness is so awesome we created a system that discriminates against white people -- a system Dolezal and Warren took advantage of. Really, that's what the right believes -- and not just the right, but some people who aren't so far to the right.

The CNN story tells us that Warren has dealt with a related digital problem:
Warren's digital team solved a problem that had lingered since at least June of 2016: The anonymous owner of the website had, since Trump began using the nickname, redirected visitors to Warren's campaign homepage.

In the weeks following her speech at the National Congress of American Indians, Warren's camp began to automatically send all traffic that came from to a new landing page. It features a video of her February speech and urges the anonymous owner of to "point their website to the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center instead." The website goes on to detail the captivity and sexual violence the young Native American woman known for her association with the Jamestown colonial settlement faced.
If you go to now, you land here, and can read this:
The story of the real Pocahontas is quite different from the myth that has been twisted by powerful people over the generations. When Pocahontas met John Smith, he was almost 30 years old – and she was about 10 years old. Whatever happened between them, it was no love story.

In her teens, Pocahontas was abducted, imprisoned, and held captive. Oral history of the Mattaponi tribe indicates that she was ripped away from her first husband and raped in captivity. When she later married John Rolfe, he paraded her around London to entertain the British and prop up financial investments in the Virginia Company. She was about 21 years old when she died, an ocean apart from her people.

Even today, violence continues to devastate Native communities. More than half of today’s Native women have experienced sexual violence.
I think Warren imagines that if she's attacked as Pocahontas by a political opponent -- maybe this year by independent Senate candidate Shiva Ayyadurai, who was born in India and calls her a "fake Indian" in campaign advertising, and eventually by Donald Trump -- she'll turn the attack around by saying something along these lines.

I hope it works. I suspect it will work in Massachusetts, where there's a highly educated electorate, and where Warren seems likely to be easily reelected this year. But will it seem like a schoolmarmy lecture to some voters in two years? That seems to be the subtext of a lot of the contempt for female Democrats we've seen recently, even among self-styled liberals (and certainly among men in the mainstream media) -- that they're humorless and bossy. The resentment is clearly gendered -- in a recent poll, Warren's favorable/unfavorable rating among Massachusetts women was 61%/28%, while among men it was 44%/46%.

Sponsoring pro-Native legislation and educating us about Pocahontas and Native women's problems might appeal to some voters, but I suspect that Warren can't really put this behind without ascertaining whether her ancestry claims are true. I think a lot of voters would understand if her family stories turned out to be incorrect -- many white (and black) Americans believe they have Native blood, some of them erroneously.

If you're thinking that this might not come up as an issue in a presidential race, or might matter only to voters who'd never vote Democratic anyway, I'll remind you of how Swiftboating helped derail John Kerry's campaign, and how Al Gore's campaign was also partly derailed by trivial issues of supposed dishonesty -- did he really say he invented the Internet? did he say he was responsible for cleaning up Love Canal?

If Warren were a Republican and she won her party's presidential nomination, conservative media would rally to her defense. But the "liberal media" won't rally to Warren's. She has to deal with this herself, and she'll need to do more than she's doing now.

No comments: