The Uncomfortable, Untenable Weirdness of Discussing A Candidate’s Self-Identified Minority Status

The race for U.S. Senate has taken a weird turn in Massachusetts.  It’s making me very uncomfortable, and I bet I’m not alone in my reaction.

The Democratic candidate is Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor.  At times in the past, she identified herself as a minority in a directory of law school professors, and Harvard identified her as native American when it responded to claims that its faculty was non-diverse.  Those matters have now been raised as a campaign issue — had she used her ancestry claim to gain an unfair advantage over other job applicants? — and Warren has been scrambling to substantiate her “family lore” of a native American ancestor.  Genealogists now have concluded that her great-great-great-grandmother, who is therefore responsible for 1/32nd of her genetic makeup, was listed on an Oklahoma marriage certificate as a Cherokee.

I realize that all’s fair in love and political campaigns.  Moreover, I can understand that if a candidate made a bogus claim about her background — by, say, falsely claiming to have served in the military or received a degree from a prestigious school — it would be fair game.  Warren’s story also might cause you to ask what reported diversity statistics really mean, and it might be a topic of conversation in the native American community, as one of the articles linked above suggests.

Still, this story is unsettling.  Whenever people start talking about someone’s “blood” it raises the specter of Nazi racial purity laws or the racial identity statutes enacted long ago in some southern states.  Those are awful, unforgivable chapters in human history, and it’s painful to think about them.

I’ve never thought about my great-great-great-grandmother — whoever she was — but if Warren’s pride in a distant ancestor’s native American heritage caused her to self-identify as native American, too, what difference should that make to a voter?  And if she listed herself as a native American for some other, less salutary reason, can’t we just allow her conscience to do its work without making the matter a political issue?  Can’t we just judge her quality as a candidate based on her positions on the issues, her experience, and other relevant qualities?

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The Latest From Adolf

I admit that I have enjoyed the Adolf Hitler youtube take-offs — all of which feature the same clip from a German language movie of the Nazi kingpin in the Fuhrerbunker with his remaining staff, getting bad news from the generals and then ranting as the Russians closed in.  In each of the take-offs, the subtitles address a different topic, and always with a lot of humor.  The first one I saw, I think, was Hitler ranting about the Dallas Cowboys unexpectedly losing a playoff game.

The latest entry is the Fuhrer fulminating about Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts special election for the U.S. Senate seat that opened up after Ted Kennedy’s death.  It is a worthy successor to a long line of Hitler videos.  I am sure it has been posted all over the internet by now, but I just can’t resist.

A Show-Stopper

Republican Scott Brown has been elected to the U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts.  Democrat Martha Coakley has conceded, thereby confirming an upset that seemed unthinkable as recently as 10 days ago.  Astonishingly, only one year after President Obama swept to victory on a wave of hope and promised change, voters in one of the bluest states in the country have turned to an outsider Republican who has promised to vigorously oppose the President’s signature initiative, “health care reform” legislation.  Brown will be the first Republican Senator from Massachusetts in more than 30 years.  The result of this special election thus reflects one of the most abrupt changes in the political climate in many years.

I hope everyone takes a deep breath before overreacting, in one direction or another, to this result.  Republicans need to realize that, at least in part, voters are angry, frustrated, and motivated by a “throw the bums out” attitude that can just as easily be directed at failed Republicans as at failed Democrats.  Democrats need to realize that many Americans think the country is on the wrong track and that the amount of time and attention spent on “health care reform” legislation indicates that national Democrats have taken their eyes off the ball, when they should have been focused on jobs and the economy. With any luck, political leaders will pause to reflect before charging ahead with their respective agendas, heedless of what Americans, in Massachusetts and elsewhere, are trying to communicate.

I also predict that the reaction of the punditry and professional politicians to Brown’s victory will just stoke the simmering disgust and contempt that many Americans feel for politicians.  The votes in Massachusetts had not even been counted when the backbiting and blame games began, with national Democrats pointing the finger at the Coakley campaign, the Coakley campaign blaming the Democratic National Committee, and so on.  The unseemly exercise in immediate finger-pointing just seems to confirm what many Americans suspect — that the political classes are untrustworthy, unprincipled, and ready to sacrifice anyone and blame anyone to save their own skins and their own reputations.  Coakley ran a campaign and lost; now, for those who are trying to spin the election campaigns as having no national message, she gets savaged as an inept loser who is solely responsible for an historic defeat.  With this kind of backstabbing from members of your own party, why would anyone want to get into politics?

“The People’s Seat” (Cont.)

The attention being paid to the special election to elect a Massachusetts Senator to succeed Ted Kennedy seems to be growing, and the signs point to a national Democratic party that is very worried.  President Obama, for example, has announced that he will go to Massachusetts tomorrow to campaign for the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley.  Whether that will help or not seems to be debatable — the polls indicate that many potential voters are opposed to the President’s “health care reform” proposals, and independent voters seem to be hearing Republican Scott Brown’s call that a vote for him will stop “health care reform” and send a clear message that lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are on the wrong track.  This article summarizes the race and provides a bit of useful information on the political winds, and the electorate, in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts contest is interesting because it is so surprising.  Here in the swing state Midwest, Massachusetts is viewed as the bluest of the blue states.  It is hard to imagine that Brown really can win — particularly if the Democrats pull out all of the “get out the vote” stops on Election Day.  If Brown nevertheless pulls off a victory, it will be an upset for the ages that undoubtedly will send significant shock waves to members of Congress who are up for election in November.

“The People’s Seat”

Massachusetts is holding a special election to select a successor to Ted Kennedy.  To the surprise of many, the Republican candidate, Scott Brown, appears to have made a competitive race in a traditional Democratic state — one that has not had a Republican Senator since 1972.

Last night, Brown, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley, and a third-party candidate named Kennedy had their final debate of the campaign and evidently had a spirited exchange of views on a number of topics, including the “health care reform” legislation.  The debate moderator, pundit David Gergen, asked Brown about how he could vote against health care reform if he sat in Ted Kennedy’s seat.  Brown responded:  “Well, with all due respect it’s not the Kennedy seat, it’s not the Democrats’ seat, it’s the people’s seat.”  A report on the debate is here.

It is hard to believe that the political climate has changed to the point that a Republican could be elected to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate, but at last one poll showed Brown leading by a percentage point.  (Another poll, which used a different turnout model, showed Coakley comfortably ahead.)  A lot of people will be closely watching Massachusetts next Tuesday.