Thursday, December 06, 2018


The belief that it was a terrible mistake for Elizabeth Warren to get a DNA test and publicize the results is now near-universal; Charlie Pierce, a constituent of Warren's, appears to be the only prominent political observer who thinks the jury is still out. Today The New York Times gives us the own-goal narrative:
... nearly two months after Ms. Warren released the test results and drew hostile reactions from prominent tribal leaders, the lingering cloud over her likely presidential campaign has only darkened. Conservatives have continued to ridicule her. More worrisome to supporters of Ms. Warren’s presidential ambitions, she has yet to allay criticism from grass-roots progressive groups, liberal political operatives and other potential 2020 allies who complain that she put too much emphasis on the controversial field of racial science — and, in doing so, played into Mr. Trump’s hands.

Advisers close to Ms. Warren say she has privately expressed concern that she may have damaged her relationships to Native American groups and her own standing with progressive activists, particularly those who are racial minorities. Several outside advisers are even more worried: They say they believe a plan should be made to repair that damage, possibly including a strong statement of apology.
It's being argued that she shouldn't have addressed the issue because you can't quiet a bully:
Some said she was too reactive to Mr. Trump’s attacks — tests results would never silence a president who often disregards facts, they said — and created a distraction from her own trademark message of economic populism. The president revels in repeatedly slurring Ms. Warren as “Pocahontas,” and conservative commentators like Howie Carr of the Boston Herald have enjoyed holding the DNA issue over the senator’s head.

“The biggest risk in engaging a bully is that bullies don’t usually stop, regardless of what the truth is,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director for the progressive political group Democracy for America. Mr. Chamberlain’s group had, in 2014, launched a “Run Warren Run” campaign to encourage her to seek the 2016 presidential nomination.

“When you can’t win an argument,” he added, “then sometimes it’s not worth having that argument.”
But what was the alternative? To allow the question to linger? That worked for her in her 2012 Senate run and it would have worked for her in this year's Senate race, but she's running in Massachusetts, where voters are favorably inclined toward her. A national race in 2020 would be different. The Republican noise machine has long had the ability to force peripheral issues to the center of a campaign -- the "Ground Zero mosque" in 2010, Ebola in 2014, emails in 2016. The GOP nearly made the caravan the #1 issue of 2018. The mainstream media, of course, frequently plays along. In a Trump-Warren race, her claims of Native ancestry would have become a top issue -- maybe the top issue -- if Warren had chosen not to get tested. Trump would have relentlessly demanded a test. "Respectable" Republicans would have backed him up in "respectable"-sounding ways. (Remember, the right believes that Warren used her ancestry story to become an affirmative-action hire at Harvard, although the assertion has been definitively debunked by The Boston Globe.)

Warren simply couldn't ignore this issue. After a while, there would have been a second narrative: Warren being pummeled and isn't fighting back, just like two previous presidential candidates from her state, Mike Dukakis and John Kerry. That would have become the main narrative of the race.

Obtaining DNA test results seemed to offer her the opportunity not to end Republican attacks on this subject -- I hope she realized this wasn't going to stop those attacks -- but to seem like the person with a better claim on the truth. There still are swing voters in America, especially in swing states. In theory, this could have neutralized the issue for those voters. And that might have been enough.

But now she has to contend with the anger of Native people, especially activists.
Racial justice advocates, keen to cast race as a socially constructed issue with little biological grounding, said Ms. Warren’s actions gave validity to the idea that race is determined by blood, a bedrock principle for those who believe in racial hierarchies and castes. Native American critics, including Kim TallBear, a prominent scholar from the University of Alberta, said in October that Ms. Warren’s actions relied on “settler-colonial” definitions of who is an indigenous American and amounted to a haughty refusal to hear out her longstanding critics.
Warren and the activists are talking past one another. The activists distrust genetic science because it's been used to harm Native people. But Warren isn't using it for that reason. She's testing a story from her family's past that became public. She's not claiming tribal membership -- she's saying her family story seems to have been true.

I've wondered whether she could have laid some groundwork with Native groups before taking the test -- but I strongly suspect that the idea would have been angrily rejected no matter how Warren offered to handle it. Which would have put her right back where she was before the tests went public: in a position of extreme vulnerability to attacks from the GOP.

I don't think she could have won no matter what choice she made. She can't quiet the GOP (which, after the tests went public, switched to mocking her reported percentage of Native blood). She's alienated Native Americans and racial justice groups. But the alternative was to be beaten up over this throughout the general election campaign if she won the nomination. And that could have defeated her the way it defeated Dukakis and Kerry.

I admire her and I hate to say this, but she probably shouldn't bother to attempt a run. This put her in a no-win situation. She had nothing but bad choices.

No comments: