Elizabeth Warren announced today that she’s forming an exploratory committee, which is a way of preparing to run for President. I have not yet made up my mind about the primaries and, indeed, we don’t yet know for sure who else will decide to run. There’s an awful lot to like about Senator Warren* and I will vote for her before any of the men who have been rumored to be considering a run.
But what I want to talk about today is framing.
There is a decent chance that, whomever you and/or I vote for in the primary, Senator Warren will be the Dem nominee. And, as I’ve explained before, in the general election you get a binary choice. You either support the Dem nominee or (whether you don’t vote, vote third party, write someone in, or vote Republican) you help elect a Republican, quite possibly traitorous Donald Trump. (Sorry/not sorry purity trolls. That’s the way the real world works.) So maybe THIS time we (and by “we” I mean Democrats; we already know that Senator Bernie Sanders isn’t a Democrat, constantly attacks Democrats, and will unleash his flying monkeys to attack Democrats) can avoid attacking likely nominees.
But, but, but what about her DNA test?
As Snopes reports:
[W]hile Warren was at U. Penn. Law School she put herself on the “Minority Law Teacher” list as Native American) in the faculty directory of the Association of American Law Schools, and  Harvard Law School at one time promoted Warren as a Native American faculty member. But specific evidence that she gained her position at Harvard (at least in part) through her claims to Native American heritage is lacking. Warren denied applying for special consideration as a person of Native American heritage during her career, and when the matter was examined in 2012 in response to [her then-opponent] Brown’s claims, people with whom Warren had worked similarly denied her ancestral background’s factoring into the professional opportunities afforded her:
The former chairman of the American Association of Law Schools, David Bernstein, told the Herald that the group’s directory once served as a tip sheet for administrators. “In the old days before the Internet, you’d pull out the AALS directory and look up people,” he said. “There are schools that, if they were looking for a minority faculty member, would go to that list and might say, ‘I didn’t know Elizabeth Warren was a minority.’”Warren said she didn’t know Harvard had used her heritage as proof of diversity until reading about the issue in the news, according to a Herald report. She also denied that she ever tried to gain a professional advantage through her lineage.
Warren responded she was recruited for the positions and did not “apply” for them; and for the most part, her record did not indicate any identification as part of a minority group:
The Globe obtained a portion of Warren’s application to Rutgers, which asks if prospective students want to apply for admission under the school’s Program for Minority Group Students. Warren answered “no.”For her employment documents at the University of Texas, Warren indicated that she was “white.”
But Penn’s 2005 Minority Equity Report identified her as the recipient of a 1994 faculty award, listing her name in bold to signify that she was a minority.
The Herald has twice quoted Charles Fried, the head of the Harvard appointing committee that recommended Warren for her position in 1995, saying that the Democratic candidate’s heritage didn’t come up during the course of her hiring. “It simply played no role in the appointments process,” he said. “It was not mentioned and I didn’t mention it to the faculty.”
The Herald later quoted Fried, a former U.S. Solicitor General under President Ronald Reagan, saying, “I can state categorically that the subject of her Native American ancestry never once was mentioned.”
In September 2018, the Boston Globe published the results of an investigation over whether Warren was hired at Harvard because [she] “had decided to self-identify as a Native American woman and Harvard saw a chance to diversify the law faculty.” The Globe concluded that:
In the most exhaustive review undertaken of Elizabeth Warren’s professional history, the Globe found clear evidence, in documents and interviews, that her claim to Native American ethnicity was never considered by the Harvard Law faculty, which voted resoundingly to hire her, or by those who hired her to four prior positions at other law schools. At every step of her remarkable rise in the legal profession, the people responsible for hiring her saw her as a white woman.
The Globe examined hundreds of documents, many of them never before available, and reached out to all 52 of the law professors who are still living and were eligible to be in [on the decision]. Some are Warren’s allies. Others are not. Thirty-one agreed to talk to the Globe — including the law professor who was, at the time, in charge of recruiting minority faculty. Most said they were unaware of her claims to Native American heritage and all but one of the 31 said those claims were not discussed as part of her hire. One professor told the Globe he is unsure whether her heritage came up, but is certain that, if it did, it had no bearing on his vote on Warren’s appointment.
Of course, that didn’t stop Republicans from continuing to criticize her. And Trump has made a special habit of attacking her, frequently calling her “Pocahontas.”
There were always three elements to Trump’s taunt about Warren’s heritage. The first was the obvious racism. The second was to imply that she (like all women) is a liar, someone who told lies to get hiring advantages (which ties nicely back to the racism, because we all know how diversity hiring practices play to Trump’s racist base). And of course Republicans always accuse the Dems of the very thing Republicans do, so Trump, the world’s biggest liar, complaining about someone else lying is a classic use of their game book. The third, and most important thing, was to taunt her and show that she couldn’t do anything about it. Trump does that to everyone, from “Crooked Hillary,” to “Little Marco,” to “Sleepy Joe” Biden, to “Da Nang Richard” Blumenthal . . . It’s a classic playground bully strategy and one Trump uses to show dominance.
This Fall, Senator Warren released a video concerning her family’s heritage. I think it’s important to pay attention to what she actually said (and didn’t say). Please take just a minute to watch it, as many have mischaracterized what she said.
After discussing her genetic results with an expert who says that she “absolutely [has] native American ancestry,” Senator Warren says:
I’m not enrolled in a tribe and only tribes determine tribal citizenship. I understand and respect that distinction. But my family history is my family history. . . . Native communities have faced discrimination, neglect, and violence for generations. And Trump can say whatever he wants about me. But mocking Native Americans or any group in order to try to get at me? That’s not what America stands for.
Trump and conservatives hit back, arguing that [not surprisingly] only a small percentage of Senator Warren’s DNA showed Native American history. (Some Native Americans attacked her, as well. I’m not going to comment on that because, as a person with white privilege, I don’t believe that I have the understanding necessary, nor the right, to do so.)
But I think that she did the right thing and I am going to encourage everyone, regardless of which primary candidate you support, to fight back against the criticism of her DNA test.
Remember the three elements of Trump’s insult? First, Senator Warren made clear that Trump was being racist and criticized him for that. Second, she also showed that she wasn’t a liar; what she’d heard from her family about her family history (and reported to the University of Pennsylvania’s law school) was true. Third, and maybe most important in terms of the upcoming campaign, she showed that she won’t just ignore Trump’s taunts. Trump’s bullying and name-calling may have worked against Marco Rubio, but Senator Warren will punch back.
But why did she have to respond to him at all?
Look, ignoring this kind of shit, in today’s world of Fox News and social media, just doesn’t work. I love Michelle Obama, but her strategy of “When they go low, we go high,” isn’t going to win any elections against modern Republicans. It didn’t work for then-Senator John Kerry. He was a decorated war hero running against a guy whose rich daddy got him out of the war. The Republicans decided to “Swift Boat” him. He made a calculated decision to ignore the insults. He lost to George W. Bush, one of America’s worst presidents. It didn’t work for Obama, who tried to ignore the “birtherism” claims that he wasn’t a “real” American and, then, looked cowed when he finally had to release his birth certificate. It didn’t work for ANY of the over a dozen candidates who tried to defeat Trump, including “Low Energy Jeb,” and “Lying Ted Cruz.” So I don’t think Warren could just let it lie. What she did won’t matter to Trump’s racist/sexist base, but, then, nothing would. She’s playing to the rest of the country.
George Lakoff recently explained how to deal with Trump’s lies. He says that the media and others should use what Lakoff calls:
truth sandwiches,” which means that you first tell the truth; then you point out what the lie is and how it diverges from the truth. Then you repeat the truth and tell the consequences of the difference between the truth and the lie.
The truth sandwich is more than [just focusing on the truth]. It shows the difference between the truth and what he’s saying — putting the truth first, and then putting it afterward, and talking about its consequences.
People say, “Oh, well, here’s the real fact.” That doesn’t really matter because Trump is getting his frame out there first. What he’s trying to do in each of the tweets he sends out is to frame something first and then repeat it.
Notice that when you repeat something, you’re strengthening it in people’s brains. The more a neural circuit is activated, the stronger it gets. Trump is using certain communicative tactics that are very sophisticated and he doesn’t realize it.
That’s why it’s important to talk first and last about the truth — “when you repeat something, you’re strengthening it in people’s brains.” And so whenever the issue of Senator Warren’s DNA comes up, here is the simple message that we ALL need to repeat over and over:
“Warren showed that she is truthful and, unlike a lot of Republicans, won’t be bullied by Trump. Trump promised to give a million dollars to charity if Warren took a DNA test that showed that she has Native American heritage, but, when she did just that, he broke his promise, as he so often does.** Warren is a fighter and will fight for middle class and poor Americans, too.”
Period. The end. No long debates about whether her tactic was wise, no deep dives into how much Native American ancestry one needs in order to have been listed a long time ago in a law school directory, no second guesses about whether she should have let him goad her into any action.
She’s a fighter. He broke his promise. She’ll fight for us.
She’s a fighter. He broke his promise. She’ll fight for us.
She’s a fighter. He broke his promise. She’ll fight for us.
But, what about . . .
She’s a fighter. He broke his promise. She’ll fight for us.
Lather, rinse, repeat. This is not rocket science.
*As noted, there’s a lot to like about Senator Warren and I like her opening video. She will be 70 years old in June of 2019. I say this as an older person, but her age worries me a bit. First, because being the president is a very stressful job and, second, because I think it’s time to give younger people a chance. I really like Kamala Harris (who is said to be planning to run) a lot at this point, and there may be others who will run and impress me. But I do like Senator Warren and, if she is the nominee, I will work my sweet, round ass off to get her elected and I say this as a woman is is STILL getting over some rather painful tendonitis from writing post cards for the recent election.
** Trump’s slogan for the next election is “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Consequently, every chance you get, please point out that his man has never kept a promise in his life, not to a wife, not to a contractor, not to his voters, not to give money to charity, and certainly not when he swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. Never miss a chance to point out that he breaks promises. Framing, people.
Thanks, good points. Notice that mentions of what Elizabeth Warren has accomplished, setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has been eradicated by the discussion of her background. At one time ancestors of hers lived on the reservation, incidentally, something that in the day we were growing up around Norman, OK, would have been detrimental to her acceptance and career.
Warren is great on financial issues. Great. Nobody can take that away from her. But she is not so great on other issues. She is a bit of a hawk and we need less war not more. She does not show much promise on environmental issues. And the whole aboriginal blood thing is problematic from start to finish. One isn’t a native person because of some blood quantum (that is a racist notion in itself) but through culture: learned and shared behaviour. She has actually shown herself to be pretty weak on native issues and didn’t help any of the campaigns of native people running for Congress (as far as I am aware). Through the whole Standing Rock affair (which began in April) she only spoke up in the end in December and it was a kind of both sides statement. I like her. She’s clearly better than that guy. But there are stronger progressives out there.
I absolutely detest this use of the word sandwich. Do we call ham on rye a rye sandwich?
You are so right about going low when they go low. Democrats should have insults ready to use for responding to Trump. How about: “Bone spur Donald”, “Don the fake Don”, “Sleazeball Trump”…or worse.
I disagree. I am so sick of politics as spectacle. Let’s stick to issues and push harder for the things the majority of people want and ignore what corporate Democrats would try to limit us to. The majority of people want 100% renewable energy in ten years and universal health care. Even Republicans when polled want these things. Let’s make that happen.
Thanks! This is terrific. At the moment I prefer Warren, and I’ll need to be convinced there’s a better candidate. I’m not worried about her age, but about misogyny. We have to defeat whatever goon the Republicans put up, period. The nation chose Clinton by three million more votes. That wasn’t enough. How many more must a Blue candidate have to win this thing?
Excellent response to the whole issue- thanks. As for age – I am sorry experience can’t be replaced – we had 8 years of a “I need to learn on the job” president and that was a complete disaster. He was out of his depth until well into his second term ( how does a great orator not make americans love his “obamacare”) so not enough people wanted a continuation of his policies.
Great article, thank you so much! The coverage of her fighting back on DNA has absolutely enraged me. And yes she had to fight back.
I forwarded your article to others and they pointed out your AWFUL comment about Sanders which I had skimmed past in the first paragraph. What you say about Sanders is every bit as unfair as the criticisms you criticize of Warren and enrages me equally. I wrote back to them: “Gosh, I skimmed down to the truth sandwich part and missed that HORRIBLE HORRIBLE stupid comment. Probably would not have gotten any further had I read it . . . . but did think the later parts were good, sigh.
“What bullshit! Sanders has been an angel to Democrats, giving a lot of campaign money and time to ones he agrees with, and not making an issue of being sabotaged last time!!! (and never brought up bogus issues like Clinton emails for political advantage, only real ones)
“As someone commented, these people who say “Sanders is not a Democrat” make clear that they don’t think being a Democrat is about values, it’s about a T-shirt apparently.
“So I’m taking back my ‘like’!”
Both Sanders and Warren are GREAT and I hate people who criticize them NOT for policy reasons which is where we should keep these discussions. Can your ‘not a Democrat’ stuff. I’ve sent money to both presidential campaigns and no I’m NOT a Democrat, I’m an Independent, and the presidency can’t be won without our votes.
I still agree with what you said in defense of Warren.
meanwhile in the real world Native groups are getting abuse heaped on them because some white famous woman wanted to use them to pretend she wasn’t white
Your claim “You either support the Dem nominee or (whether you don’t vote, vote third party, write someone in, or vote Republican) you help elect a Republican, quite possibly traitorous Donald Trump” is utter rubbish, tediously repeated by Hillarybots. I couldn’t stomach voting for Hillary, but that had absolutely no influence on the 2016 election (I am in a blue state – my vote could not possibly have changed my state’s electoral vote). And Heredia Visitor is absolutely correct about your Bernie smear; you should be ashamed of yourself, although I doubt that a Hillarybot is capable of shame.
I would have been delighted to vote for Warren in 2016, and would be delighted to vote for her in 2020 if she is the Dem candidate. Ditto regarding Bernie.
“we already know that Senator Bernie Sanders isn’t a Democrat, constantly attacks Democrats, and will unleash his flying monkeys to attack Democrats”
Wow, Sanders has raised money for many many Democrats in a big way. Maybe he doesn’t fit your neoliberal idea of what a democrat should be, but he’s head and shoulders better than most Dems.
And everyone in a primary attacks the other competitors. At least Bernie attacks them on their principles and policies.
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