Last month Monica Lewinsky told Vanity Fair that she only recently realized her relationship with Bill Clinton “constituted a gross abuse of power,” and not a case of a consensual relationship. When America was debating whether oral sex constituted a sexual relationship, and thus whether Bill Clinton committed perjury, the real issue—Bill Clinton’s abuse of power—was lost. Over twenty years later, we’re missing the real issue with Elizabeth Warren’s alleged Cherokee heritage. Senator Warren appears to be considering a 2020 presidential bid. Sure, she denies any intention to run, but she also refuses to commit to serving out the full six years if she’s re-elected to the U.S. Senate. So, we need to have a serious conversation about how to handle her alleged Cherokee heritage, because Republicans are completely missing the point, and are dangling a Get Out of Jail Free card right in front of her face.
When President Trump calls her Pocahontas, I laugh—even though I think Fauxcahontas is more apt a nickname. When Massachusetts Republican and candidate Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai sent Warren a 23andMe DNA kit for her birthday last year as a publicity stunt for his campaign, I admit I thought it was clever. Truth be told, she deserves every attack she’s endured.
Warren refused Shiva Ayyadurai’s DNA test gift, of course, but since then calls for her to take a DNA test have not stopped. In fact they are becoming a small problem for her Senate re-election campaign—an election she’ll certainly win. Howie Carr, the Boston-based journalist and conservative talk radio host, has called on Warren to “either give up the claim or prove it.” But it’s not just conservatives telling Warren to take a DNA test anymore. Just last week, The Berkshire Eagle, a local Massachusetts paper that endorsed Warren in 2012, called on her to take the test so she can finally put the issue to bed:
There are now so many commercial DNA heritage-tracking labs in business that they advertise on television. The going rate for one of the most popular tests is $99. All the senator needs to do is spit into a tube, wait a few weeks and get her answer. No matter if the test came up negative or positive, it would constitute a plus for Warren and her political hopes.
Were she to test positive for Native American DNA, it would permanently resolve the issue — while possibly shutting down President Trump.
Should the test come up negative, it would be an opportunity for the senator to perform an act rarely seen among politicians: an admission of her error and a full-throated apology to Native American tribes and anyone else offended by her spurious claim.
For Warren’s supporters, it doesn’t matter whether the test indicates Native American ancestry. The issue dies with the DNA test no matter what. Why? Because we’ve lost sight of what the real issue is. Warren claims her maternal great-great-great grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee (a claim that has been disputed) so at best, she might be 1/32 Cherokee. So who cares what any DNA might or might not prove? It doesn’t matter. Elizabeth Warren is a white woman. No matter how much Cherokee blood runs through her veins, she is a white woman. But, the issue is not whether she is 3.125 percent Cherokee. The issue is whether Warren, a white woman, abused the spirit of affirmative action policies to advance her career. That she claimed Native American heritage is not up for debate. In fact, it is well documented. Harvard Law School cited her as an example of a minority woman professor. “Although the conventional wisdom among students and faculty is that the Law School faculty includes no minority women,” wrote the Harvard Crimson in 1996, “Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren is Native American.” Why did they cite her as an example of the school’s progress in achieving diversity in hiring? Because she identified herself as a Native American in an Association of American Law Schools teachers directory.
Warren has even doubled down on her claims, while also denying she used her spurious heritage for personal gain. “I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career,” she said in a speech responding to Trump’s recent attacks.
Whether you agree with affirmative action policies or not, we can all agree that falsely claiming minority status to advance your career is despicable. Even though “transracial identity” is becoming a thing thanks to Rachel Dolezal, Warren hasn’t claimed to be transracial—she is not a white woman who “identifies” as Native American, she is a white woman who has repeatedly claimed to be Native American based on a disputed 3.125 percent of her actual heritage.
If a DNA test proves she is in fact 1/32 Cherokee, then it doesn’t matter that she attempted to benefit professionally by identifying as a minority, because Republicans have distorted the issue by asking her to prove her heritage, rather than prove she didn’t claim minority status to further her career. As a result, liberals see her taking a DNA test as a win-win situation. Because even if she’s not 3.125 percent Cherokee, she can just apologize for believing what she was told, and all will be forgiven. So far, she’s refused to take a DNA test, but that could easily change should she run for president and her primary opponents make it an issue.
In a time when Halloween costumes and hooped earrings are criticized for cultural appropriation, it’s troubling that Elizabeth Warren gets a pass from the left—who see even a negative DNA test result as an opportunity for absolution, not proof of guilt. It’s time to stop asking her to take a DNA test and start calling her out for her real crimes. Warren knows she’s a white woman. She’s always known this. No DNA test can absolve her for pretending not to be.