Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren may win against Massachusetts’ Scott Brown tomorrow, but she isn’t smiling.
The day before the Massachusetts Senate election, the polls still have it a dead heat. Neither Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren or incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown can justifiably claim at this point to holding a numerical advantage of any substance. The race will be decided tomorrow by the good people of Massachusetts, and by how many of them are passionate enough to brave the early November cold to find their way down to the polling places. As a political journalist in an age when politics so rarely rises to a level that even deserves journalism — even the degraded, nonsensical version of journalism practiced today — it’s a little sad to see this brilliant, fascinating race finally come to an end.
My favorite Democrat, writer Mike Barnicle, told me in an interview back in April — just two days before Elizabeth Warren’s marquee scandal broke — that Warren-Brown was already shaping up to be the most “literary” political race that we’ve seen in our lifetimes. It was exactly the kind of observation a Massachusetts native would make, and exactly the kind that Elizabeth Warren, for all her academic pedigree, would never be able to fully understand.
There was a moment in the second debate, held in October at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Massachusetts, that defined better than anything what’s truly at stake in the election. Asked to say one nice thing about his opponent, Brown replied, “She’s a very hardworking, accomplished professor, and she’s certainly very qualified.” He paused for a moment. “As a matter of fact, she’s such a good professor, and I’ve heard from parents who have actually had their kids being taught by her, that she’s wonderful. So I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that she can continue to be in that position.” The crowd laughed. Elizabeth Warren didn’t.
Massachusetts is defined by its love of politics. That love stems from many different historical factors — including a boisterous local press and a tradition of Boston political machines so charming that their rampant corruption was merely considered colorful behavior. Scott Brown grew up in Massachusetts and so he appreciates that love. It’s why, when he’s holding a press conference accusing Warren of disenfranchising asbestos victims with her legal work, he knows to hold the incriminating documents up to the cameras, palms out, one on either side of him. (Can the reporters read, from that distance, what the documents say? No, but that’s just what you do when holding such press conferences.) It’s why, when the Warren camp trots out some lawyer to stage his own outdoor press conference accusing Brown of holding up misleading documents, Brown’s campaign manager goes down to the event, points at the lawyer and smirks to the reporters, “I think he’s donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democrats, but…”
One side genuinely loves this stuff. The other side doesn’t.
Warren’s own past sins, of course, were a large part of what made this race so literary. They were deep, dark, devious sins, ones that perfectly fed into the state’s Catholic thirst for tragedy and scandal. But they proved how out of touch she is with the Massachusetts sensibility. They proved that she cares only about the ends and not the means, the accomplishments and not the process. In a state that values hard work for its own sake and elections for their own sake, that’s a terrible quality for a politician to have.
Some Americans will always remember where they were when they watched the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the Red Sox winning the World Series. I have my own conservative blogger version of that.
On April 27, 2012, the Boston Herald reported that clearly-white Elizabeth Warren had identified herself as a Native American when applying to teach at Harvard Law School, and that Harvard later cited her presence on staff as evidence of its faculty’s diversity. When it first went to print, the Warren campaign was shellshocked. The Herald wrote that “campaign aides last night scrambled but failed to produce documents proving her family’s lineage.” A video showed Warren and her staffers frantically running out the back door of a campaign event to avoid the press. A week later, Warren finally told reporters that she knew of her supposed 1/32nd Cherokee roots because her “papaw” had “high cheekbones, like all of the Indians do.”
It was utterly amazing. Dominick Dunne couldn’t have written a sexier story. This woman was caught in one of the most bizarre acts of fraud ever committed by an American politician. The questions poured out onto the Internet almost faster than conservative outlets could type them. When did she first list herself as nonwhite? Was she an Affirmative Action hire? Was Harvard complicit?
The Boston press, which still hasn’t changed its tone very much since the 1770s, whipped the Bay State into an Indian-themed frenzy. Cameramen were dispatched to chase Warren around at her public appearances. A local Fox news anchor played Paul Revere and the Raiders’ song “Indian Reservation” on the air. Herald columnist Howie Carr and midday conservative radio host Michael Graham fanned the flames. And the national conservative media fanned them harder. Michelle Malkin branded the Harvard professor “Fauxchontas.” Dennis Miller offered to send her a campaign contribution in beads.
But when a story is simply too good to be controlled, all kinds of concerns arise — as they did in this case for Republicans. Would the media attention undercut just how serious Warren’s sin really was? What about the poor real-life Native Americans Warren disenfranchised? Would they be exploited by the 24-hour cable coverage, creating backlash against Brown?
Covering the race for the Washington Free Beacon, I called up the prominent Cherokee writer Twila Barnes to get a genuine Native American perspective. She denounced Warren and explained how her fellow Cherokees found Warren’s cheekbone comments “stereotypical and insulting.” Two days after I published my interview, Barnes appeared on Fox News to repeat those same charges. Liberals started fighting back in the blogosphere, calling Barnes a Republican shill trotted out by conservatives to lend credence to the controversy. Barnes’ sincere motives aside, the public wasn’t entirely buying her angle.
But another Boston source phoned me and explained just how damaging the story truly was for Warren in Massachusetts, in ways unrelated to the racial aspect. Anyone who grew up in Boston knows that this is bigger than a mere gaffe, he said, and he was right. This was something deeper, something more tragic, and it had everything to do with Harvard. The Harvard campus, that Puritan sanctuary overlooking working-class Boston across the Charles River, was besmirched. Warren and Harvard, and the dim feelings people in Massachusetts have about each, would henceforth be inextricably linked. And the April 27 front page of the Boston Herald, its beautiful tabloid imagery reminiscent of the British press, would always remain in people’s minds: a photograph of Warren’s desperate face pasted over the Harvard campus skyline with the headline, “HARVARD (F)LAW.”
THE SCANDAL UNDERSCORED just how prominent, inevitable even, Warren’s electoral chances had become, before people in Massachusetts really knew anything about her. What kind of person was she? Perhaps they knew that she grew up in Oklahoma and that she’s married to fellow Harvard professor Bruce Mann. But what about her first husband and the father of her two children? The man described on her Wikipedia page as her “high-school boyfriend”?
The Northwest Classen High School (Oklahoma City, OK) yearbook of 1964 features “Jim Warren” as a short young man with thick glasses and straight A’s in math. His future wife Elizabeth Herring, class of ‘66, was two years behind him. They married in 1967 and had two children, Amelia (1971) and Alexander (1976). Jim was a computer engineer who started his career in New Jersey and then moved to Houston, where his wife, by then “Elizabeth Warren,” divorced him in 1978.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?