Thursday, October 18, 2018

Warren again

Undated map, via..

Jordan wrote, in comments (read the whole thing).
This whole thing confounds me terribly, because the only operative question, the only one that means anything at all, is Should Warren have done this, and as far as I'm concerned the answer is a blindingly obvious Yes, but according to nearly everyone on the Left and the Right, the answer is No....
In terms of political expediency I don't even know where to start. She got Trump on the defensive, rocking back and sputtering, and I don't understand why people still don't understand how difficult and important that is.
I wonder. My first response was delight, and then I got perturbed by the Cherokee Nation statement, and more of that on NPR in the morning, and then I started working through it, as reported on Tuesday, and got a kind of sour taste in my mouth about the whole thing, and that exhaustion that gets at us all lately all the time, like what's the point. I agree that she absolutely did the right thing, and it's great that the test came out with dispositive evidence, but for one thing it's not going to stop them, the smarter ones have just been moving the goalposts all week.

The latest (a scandal that was raised by Boston radio personality Howie Carr in 2012, so "latest" is likely not the right word—my version, Britlaundered from Breitbart, is that of the Daily Mail, but wingnuts have been trotting it out for a revival all week) is that a couple of the recipes published under Warren's name in the Pow Wow Chow cookbook in 1984 turned out to have been lifted, from old Pierre Franey's New York Times column in 1979, credited to Henri Soule of Le Pavillon, which makes a lot of sense, given that they're both rather elegant recipes featuring crab, and the Cherokee, whose ancestral homeland was the Great Smoky Mountains before they were driven west, can't have had a big cultural affinity with crab, which comes, you know, from the sea.

My narratology says Warren couldn't be responsible for the plagiarism. I figure rather that she failed to submit any recipes at all for the project, and the compiler, Warren's cousin Candy Rowsey, did the dirty job herself. The book was published by the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee, I assume to be sold in the museum's gift shop. It's hard to imagine that Rowsey (who died in 2002) ever made any money off of the thing, or even imagined she might, let alone Warren. The concept of "the Five Civilized Tribes" (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) is inexpressibly saddening to me; it sounds like a claim that some groups of Indians are better than others because they're more like white people, being made by those Indians themselves.

The thing that's dispiriting me most is something I wasn't even conscious of until I took a look at Monsignor Douthat's discussion ("The Elizabeth Warren Fiasco"), which put it crudely enough that I couldn't avoid seeing it:
A lot of smart people believe that Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2020. A recent New York magazine profile by Jonathan Chait claimed that she’s winning the invisible primary — building campaign networks, rolling out policy proposals, wooing insiders, intimidating rivals.
When she released a biographical video featuring her Oklahoman roots and answering Donald Trump’s “Pocahontas” gibe with a DNA test proving that she does have Native American ancestry, Jonathan Bernstein of Bloomberg View called the video the “latest in a series of solid moves Warren has been making” to persuade Democratic insiders that she can take on Trump.
I hadn't realized we were really talking about the 2020 campaign, three weeks before a different election of extraordinary consequence for the nation and maybe the planet. I leapt to Warren's defense because I love her as a human being and scholar and a great Senator and champion of working people and representative of the capacity of women, not to defend her presidential candidacy. I don't even want her to run for president. I don't want any Boomer to run as a Democrat in 2020. I don't want Clinton or Sanders. I don't want Biden or Kerry. I pledge not to run myself—if nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve—and I wish Warren would do the same. And moreover I don't want to talk about it until late November at the soonest, preferably not for another year. If that's what this story is about, I don't want any part of it. I think the only important thing we can learn from it is from Steve M, and it's not very encouraging:
No other 2020 Democrat has a potential vulnerability quite like this one, but they're all going to have missteps, and when they do, Trump will pounce -- and the "liberal media" theater critics will be right behind, putting the boot in. Just about every Democratic hopeful is destined to get terrible media coverage, primarily because there's no bro-ish New Kennedy in the field (i.e., no 2008 Obama or 1992 Bill Clinton). That's the only kind of candidate who's likely to get good press, except perhaps an anti-progressive corporatist like Mike Bloomberg or Howard Schultz.
Because however pleased Jordan and I and any of the rest of you may have been to learn that Warren had punched Trump to the floor intellectually, that's not how the press is going to see it—they're going to keep calling it a tactical error, like, again, Douthat:
Because the whole issue with Warren’s ancestral claims is that she allowed them to be proclaimed as proof of an elite institution’s diversity, in an environment where that diversity can matter a great deal to one’s career prospects (even if, on the evidence, it didn’t matter much to Warren’s). And from the identitarian left to the anti-affirmative-action right, I defy you to find a single person invested in these debates who believes that someone who might be one-64th or even one-32nd Indian and whose Cherokee experience consists of old family stories should qualify as a first “minority” hire in anything.
The DNA test thus simultaneously gives Trump an obvious way to keep the story going on his terms — just pick the lowest end of the genetic estimate and make sport of a “Pocahontas” who’s only one-1,000th Indian — while also annoying Indian groups and anyone on the left (including the actual minority candidates against whom Warren may run) invested in a vision of affirmative action as a righter of historic wrongs rather than just a means to elite self-congratulation.
What he's saying here is, of course, manipulative in the extreme, as he worms his way into restating the rightwing case from the original story, according to which Warren had lied about her ancestry in order to get a Harvard gig, to a new one, somewhat less false, in which Warren passively "allows" Harvard to use her as a token in its diversity hiring policy. But there's something else going on here, in which he's adverting to a subtext of the discussion that has nothing to do with the 2020 race and everything to do with the broader rightwing agenda, which Trump shares in his stupid Archie Bunker way, of discrediting affirmative action.

Because there's a silent premise that has always been part of the "Pocahontas" story about Warren, which Douthat would never dream of uttering but which you can smell in every sentence: that the beneficiaries of affirmative action are too stupid, or morally weak, or lacking in "grit", to succeed on their own, without being handed special advantages. "Systemic discrimination" is a fantasy, in this view, or an "excuse" for failure. "We don't like this," says the right, "but that's what you wanted, with the 60s civil rights legislation, and that's what we've got." Even though the Supreme Court from Rehnquist to Roberts has whittled it down to practically nothing. But Warren, who in the original Trumpy version couldn't make it on her own because she's just naturally not good enough, gamed the system by pretending to be a victim; or in the new version Douthat is trying out, Harvard gamed the system by pretending to have found a victim.

Which is kind of insane, when you think about it: was Harvard ethically obliged to be suspicious of Warren? Should it have given her a DNA test of its own before hiring her, or kept the whole thing quiet? And you want to hold on to that even as you recognize, grudgingly, that she was telling the truth?

So Jordan's surely right, Warren's taking the DNA test and putting it out was the right thing to do, and cool, but it also leaves that silent premise unchallenged: that if she were a real Indian she wouldn't have been able to make it without being given unfair advantages. And that's what I can't stand. It's why I always thought the most important task was to show how extremely capable she is, because those special advantages don't exist. But now that the new line is "Well, she's hardly an Indian at all, 1/1024," I'm just depressed, worn down, tired of it. Not that it gives them a valid argument, but that the argument still exists; they'll never let go.

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