Ever since the story broke that Wendy Davis — to be charitable to her — had embellished her personal narrative, many commenters and people on Twitter with whom I interact have suggested Elizabeth Warren as an analogy.
As readers know, I have been a harsh critic of Elizabeth Warren for claiming Native American and Cherokee status for employment purposes without basis as she climbed the ladder to Harvard Law School, and then dumping that status as soon as she got tenure.
But not all false narratives are created equally.
Elizabeth Warren’s false narrative was done quietly, and in a manner designed to juice her employment prospects with few people, outside of those responsible for diversity hiring, knowing about it. Warren was not Native American, and the myth that she was 1/32 Cherokee was created by faulty speculation during her campaign, not when she was growing up. At most, some Native American ancestry was a mere family rumor, the term her adult nephew used when searching the family’s genealogy.
Warren never lived as a Cherokee, never associated with Cherokees, and never publicly touted herself as Cherokee.
Instead, Warren used those family rumors of Native American ancestry to get herself put on the short listing of “Minority Law Teachers” in a law professor directory used in the 1980s as a hiring tool by law school administrators. While a Visiting Professor at Harvard, she also somehow managed to get on a list of Women of Color in Legal Academia, although records are hard to find as to how extensively she touted her supposed Native American status (her hiring records never have been released).
While there is strong evidence that Warren tried to use her Native American narrative to advance her career, that narrative was not her career.
Whatever criticisms I have of Warren, and whatever criticisms other law professors had as to the politicized nature of her scholarship, Warren established a name for herself because of that scholarship and her prolific writing.
Moreover, the Native American narrative was not the reason for Warren’s political success. Instead, it almost ruined that success. And if Warren were running anyplace other than in Massachusetts, it might have been her undoing.
No, Warren’s political success is owed to a skillful ability to play on class envy, and to take complicated regulatory issues and reduce them to mispleading yet appealing YouTube hits. An unusually skillful ability, at that.
Contrast Elizabeth Warren with Wendy Davis.
Davis’ narrative of personal struggle as a teenage single mom who lifted herself up from trailer parks to Harvard Law School is the entirety of Davis’ political appeal. Sure, she took her name national with the late term abortion filibuster, but she is not running on that issue. Even Davis recognizes that late term abortion does not have mass appeal, certainly not in Texas.
That is why the unraveling of Davis’ personal narrative is so damaging, and important. Without that personal narrative, what is there to the Wendy Davis candidacy?DONATE
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