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.
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.