What Elizabeth Warren Should Say
A guide to owning your controversy.
Now that Elizabeth Warren appears ready to set the record straight about her purported Native American ancestry (a Boston Globe columnist said she telephoned a "ready to talk"), here's my advice for what she should say:
Like many Americans, I grew up believing my family's stories about our heritage. Growing up in Oklahoma, surrounded by the proud and complicated history of the Cherokee, being told my mother was part Native American was never an implausible story. And, as a young girl, I believed it as much as I believed in my parents' love for me. Now, thanks to the unimaginable scrutiny of seeking political office, doubts have been raised about these stories -- central family narratives I never had any reason to question. I can tell you that I certainly plan to look into it further and find the truth so that I and my children can fully know our history.
But there's also another story we should be talking about, too -- one in which my political opponent is attempting to distract voters and my campaign from the serious issues at stake in this election by dividing the electorate.
The reality is that many in our society who work just as hard and have just as much potential don't have the same opportunities as others. As the daughter of a janitor, born less than a quarter century after woman won the right to vote in America, I understand how our economy and politics have been rigged to make it easier for the rich to keep getting richer while the rest of us are often set up to fail. And while it's hard for all poor and working class people to thrive in America today, residual bias and discrimination continue to erect extra barriers for people of color.
I find it encouraging that the same Republican party that was furious a few months ago about President Obama once hugging a Harvard Law School professor during a protest for faculty diversity is now so supportive of such calls for affirmative action that they would attack me over supposedly exploiting it. Hopefully this signals a coming shift in policies in which Republicans will support affirmative action, which does not give anyone an unfair leg up but simply extends a more careful consideration to those from communities who we know from all kinds of research we're all more likely to overlook.
I believe in affirmative action that holds our institutions accountable to be as fair in practice as they aspire to be in rhetoric. I will not let my campaign nor my past be used to attack the very basic idea that all Americans should be treated equally in applying for work.
I am proud of my family and to align myself with the economic and political struggles of people of color which, I believe, represents the very best of what our nation stands for --- the enduring principle, and still elusive promise, that all of us are created equal and that race, gender or economic status should never unfairly prejudice our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
But the implications of my opponent's smear -- that by supporting opportunities for people of color I am somehow opposing opportunity for working class white folks -- could not be further off base. After all, there is no disputing my working class roots nor the fact that, whatever my heritage, I am also white. I personally known the frustrations of working class and poor white folks in our state and our country who feel like they can't catch a break in our broken economy.
We have an opportunity crisis in America -- for women, for men, for working class people, for poor people, for white folks, for black folks and yes, especially, for Native Americans. Unlike my opponent, who likes to pretend that as long as he can become a millionaire, anyone can -- I have spent my career focused on identifying and fixing the parts of our economy that are broken for all but the 1 percent.
Scott Brown and the Republicans would like you to think that I care more about some Massachusetts voters than others. But the fact is Scott Brown and Republicans care more about millionaires and billionaires than they care about the rest of us, repeatedly pushing policies that help the rich get even richer while average Americans of all races work harder and harder for less and less.
I did not reap a single unfair benefit from my ethnic heritage. However, Scott Brown and the Republicans are intentionally ensuring that the wealthy pay lower taxes than the rest of us, that government regulations of everything from our food to the finance sector continue to benefit the rich and big business, that our government which should be of the people, by the people and for the people, has been taken over by Wall Street. No amount of finger wagging about my actions in the past can distract from the destructive, lop-sided economy Scott Brown and the Republicans have created today. Here's hoping Scott Brown can now stop the personal attacks and focus on defending his record. We have an opportunity crisis, Massachusetts, and it's high time we focus on that.