Sen. Elizabeth Warren made news again this week with a pattern that has become something of a trademark: an unverifiable story carefully calibrated to portray her as a victim.
In this case, she accused Bernie Sanders of telling her in 2018 that a woman could not win the presidency, a claim that would surely inflame the Democratic base just before a debate — and right as her campaign flags nationally, while Sanders’ surges.
Putting aside whether and why Sanders, who lost the 2016 nomination to a woman and then had front-row seats to her narrow defeat, would ever say that to a colleague, this hearsay is a pattern of Warren’s, who has continually distinguished herself with a series of false narratives designed to make her appear victimized in just the sort of way that would boost her career.
To begin with the most widely publicized, it is clear that Warren officially declared herself of Native American heritage for years, based on family lore alone, registering as a minority with the Association of American Law Schools and on the Texas Bar, just before being hired by the University of Pennsylvania in 1987. After she joined Harvard Law as a tenured professor, the prestigious institution in turn “used her self-identification to help bolster its diversity statistics.”
Harvard advertised her publicly as its first woman of color on faculty — based on family mythology, Oklahoman lineage, and likely an understanding that registration as a Native American would help both her career and her employer’s reputation.
Warren has been forced to play defense, even apologizing for “furthering confusion about tribal citizenship” (read: lying about being a person of color), but has not been subject to the litany of negative commentary that, say, Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg gets from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
In fact, she has called foul in the other direction, declaring President Trump’s taunts of “Pocahontas” a “slur.” To clarify: It may be crude to make fun of somebody who has posed as a Native American by calling her “Pocahontas,” but it is not a racist slur. It would be racist to call an actual Native American person Pocahontas — but Warren is not an actual Native American person, and that is the joke.
What is racist is a white woman posing as a woman of color.
Though little compares to the race hoax that helped launch Warren’s career, smaller stories on the campaign trail have established her quest for victimhood. The first is her tale of being fired due to pregnancy discrimination in the 1970s — the details of which have changed significantly over the years. School board notes from Riverdale, N.J., indicate that the school wished to extend her contract but accepted her resignation “with regret.”
Another moment came when she misled members of the Powerful Parent Network — black mothers attending a campaign rally in Atlanta — by claiming her kids went to public schools, when in fact that was true for only her daughter, while her son attended tony private schools (including the Haverford School while she was at Penn).
The idea of “being canceled” — heaped with vitriol and shunned from public engagement — is a social phenomenon initiated mostly by purists of the Online Left, who agitate against people who represent déclassé views, especially on race and gender.
Why hasn’t Warren been canceled by the left? The answer is that she is one of them, and so is ultimately allowed to do whatever she wants.
Warren’s continued political resilience reminds me of a certain medieval practice exercised by the Catholic Church, wherein the rich could “buy indulgences” to atone for their sins. This practice enriched the church, but over the long term hollowed it out and led directly to the formation of a protest (Protestant) movement that ended Catholic hegemony in Europe.
For cultural and media elites, Warren has bought her indulgences by embodying their own academic politics. For everybody else, this double standard corrupts the progressive platform they wish to advance.
Warren has so far escaped her own egregious actions without facing a major penalty from the left. But by gliding over her distortions, those who are cheering her on have exposed their politics to be as tribal and devoid of substance as everyone else’s.