By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s disclosure of DNA testing confirming some distant Native American ancestry in her family won’t change the politics of the “Pocahontas” taunt very much, if at all.

Why would it? This “controversy” was never about facts to begin with.

When reports of Warren’s claim to Native American blood based on family lore first surfaced during her 2012 campaign against then-Sen. Scott Brown, her adversaries couldn’t believe their good fortune. The story opened up several promising lines of attack on the neophyte pol.

Brown chose to focus on Warren’s inability to prove her claim as evidence of her dishonesty. Almost as juicy – the fact that both the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard had touted her Native American blood as evidence of their commitment to diversity in faculty hiring. This was jet fuel for the never-proven claim that Warren herself had exploited her status in order to capitalize on affirmative action and promote her career.

Thus, argued Brown and his allies, Warren fit into two categories widely despised by many voters – a dishonest pol, and a freeloader on the “quota” system that many see as unfair reverse discrimination.

Pocahontas politics works for the Warren haters on another level. It categorizes her as, by her own account, a racial minority, one that is alien to and not held in especially high regard by many Americans.

Senator Elizabeth Warren. (Photo credit JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images)

Add that to the potential political toxicity in some quarters of other facts about Warren – her elite professional background, her status as a card-carrying-Cambridge-liberal, and her pushy-female aura (Google “Warren” and “shrill” if you don’t believe that’s red meat for her critics) – and you have a perfect storm that may have fizzled in Massachusetts, but holds the potential to swamp any national Warren candidacy.

The Trump campaign and its enablers never let the lack of actual evidence of Warren’s “crimes” get in their way and they’re not going to stop now. The DNA test, the Boston Globe report debunking the notion that she benefited from her heritage claim, all “fake news,” easily dismissed by the right.

But that doesn’t mean Warren’s move to settle the record won’t yield some political benefits. Reasonable people who might have been alarmed by the Pocahontas smear will now feel more comfortable with her, just as the Obama birther movement lost altitude after he posted his Hawaii birth certificate online.

And in the video Warren released Monday on the matter lie the seeds of a national campaign strategy that could be promising for Warren. For the first time that I can recall in her political career, we see and hear from her three older brothers, all military veterans. And we are presented with Warren, the Oklahoman from modest means, a useful departure from the pre-existing image of Warren the wealthy Harvardian, ensconced in a million dollar Cambridge manse.

Pocahontas politics isn’t going away; Warren’s enemies have had too much success milking it. But finally, Warren is fighting back. The next crop of polls about her should be very interesting.

Jon Keller

  1. Theodore Oule says:

    I agree, Jon, that the Pochahontas politics isn’t going to go away any time soon. But there are reasons why it isn’t.

    And those reasons were part of the story that a serious and objective analyst should have explored.

    The first is the degree of Indian blood that Warren is claiming…between 1/64th and 1/1024th…probably enough for apocryphal stories, but hardly enough – for a valid claim for ancestry.

    Next is the point that the NY Times made regarding the amount of Indian blood that most white American’s exhibit. Warren doesn’t even come close to meeting THAT number

    And on the DNA portion, her “testing” had to rely on proxy DNA and unproven theory to even get the numbers that she did on account of native American DNA not being in any DNA data base since native Americans refuse to allow sampling for DNA testing. And while her test may show relationships to the proxies used, there is no scientific evidence of the link between the proxies and the native Americans. It was science to uncover a link, no matter how tenuous, not to find out the truth. And that is always suspect science.

    Next turns to the reasons why Warren chose to do this now when she could have conveniently taken care of the issue six years ago…

    She’s running for the Senate to represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    That is so true, but in a state where she is a shoe-in because of the deep-blue nature of the body politic, that clearly is not the reason.

    Warren is running for president…She’s checking all of the boxes, removing the hurdles, preparing the obligatory “family history” video to show that she is Okie, not the limousine liberal.

    And since she is running for president, why should The Voters grant her a platform and salary, a reasonably good salary at that, to ignore the Commonwealth and its citizens.

    But, perhaps most damning of Warren was her use of the apocryphal Indian Heritage to advance her career, to the extent of allowing arguably the most prestigious law schools in the nation to run publications making her claim.

    So why, Jon, with those large questions looming, did you fail to mention them in your puff piece?

    And the bigger question, why should The People of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts give her the chance to continue her charade of just trying to be our Senator?