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Indian Spring

Another Massachusetts miracle for Scott Brown?

Jun 4, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 36 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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Newton, Mass.

Gov Scott Brown

Gov Scott Brown

AP Michael Dwyer

The event was called “Hoops for Our Troops,” and it was held on Armed Forces Day (May 19) in a high school gym here in Newton. The mayor, Setti Warren, came up with the idea. He is an Iraq war veteran himself and passionate about helping vets. The event brought veterans together with potential employers as well as representatives from job training programs, health care providers, counseling services, and others. Spice for the event came in the form of two basketball games. In one, the players were disabled veterans in wheelchairs. The other game, which was the draw, was between teams that were a mix of vets and local celebrities, mostly from broadcasting and sports, among them Kevin Faulk of the New England Patriots. Mayor Warren also suited up to play.

This was a made-to-order opportunity, then, for any capable, hustling politician looking to connect with constituents, early in a tough campaign. So Senator Scott Brown, who is an officer in the National Guard with some brief service in Afghanistan, arrived a little before halftime in the second game and worked the room. He goofed a little with the players. Shook a lot of hands. Did not make a speech and, in general, kept things low-key and casual. He was either enjoying himself and happy to be there, or very gifted at pretending to be. Which, in his line of work, probably amounts to the same thing.

It is fortunate for Brown that he is good at this sort of thing because if he intends to win in the league where he has chosen to compete, then he is going to have to play large. He is, first of all, a Republican, and no matter how hard you try, you can only go so far in ameliorating that liability in Massachusetts, which is among the bluest of the blue states. So blue, in fact, that Mitt Romney, who once managed to get himself elected governor of Massachusetts, is certain to concede the state as a lock for President Obama.

The Senate seat which Scott Brown now occupies was held for 46 years by Ted Kennedy. It is still considered by many to be “the Kennedy seat,” though Brown got some traction in the 2010 special election to fill the two years remaining in Kennedy’s term after his death by insisting that it is “the people’s seat.” Nice point, but then most of “the people” are Democrats.

Brown was expected to lose that election, and he might have, except that it was the time of the Tea Party ascendant, and opposition to Obamacare was running high. Voters knew that Brown might represent the needed 40th vote to keep a filibuster alive in the Senate.

He also had the good fortune to run against a political stiff who established her empathetic detachment from the voters of her state when she said that Curt Schilling, the warrior pitcher for the Red Sox, was “a Yankees fan.” This was a tectonic political gaffe that played straight to Brown’s personal appeal. He was, after all, an athlete himself, a good-looking guy with a glamorous wife (a TV newswoman), attractive daughters, and a pickup truck. Not a regular guy, exactly, but definitely the kind of guy that regular guys around Boston would like to be and could imagine themselves being, if things had only gone a little differently.

Brown was the nearly ideal anti-elitist candidate, in other words. And he won. Democrats were horrified and angry. A Republican man had defeated a Democratic woman in a contest for “the Kennedy seat.” This was sacrilege or worse.

Brown, of course, had only two years to build a record of votes and constituent service—and to create a media-shaped personality—before he would be obliged to run again. And this time, the Democrats would not be caught by surprise or take him lightly.

In Washington, Senate Democrats used a parliamentary maneuver that made it impossible to stop Obama-care by filibuster. Brown was not able to play Horatio at that particular bridge. But he became the potential 60th vote to break a filibuster of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Brown conducted extended negotiations with Rep. Barney Frank. Except for the fact that both are from Massachusetts, these two could not be more unalike—in temperament, appearance, and politics. Still, they managed to reach some kind of agreement, and Brown did cast that 60th vote. The Dodd-Frank bill became law, and it would not have happened except for Brown’s vote. He may have hoped that this would buy him some love back home, but his opposition in Massachusetts seems determined not to let what Barney Frank considers Brown’s good deed go unpunished.

From the moment it became clear that Scott Brown would win “the Kennedy seat,” Massachusetts Democrats began thinking of a rematch. And this time, Brown would not have the luxury of running against some political pug. They would send out a real candidate and raise plenty of money for that candidate’s campaign.

The Democrats’ handpicked champion appears to be Elizabeth Warren. There is still the party convention on June 2, which looks a little less like the mere formality it was a few weeks ago, back when Warren seemed the perfect candidate and an odds-on favorite to restore the proper political order in the state of Massachusetts. But the long odds are still for a Brown-Warren race.

Elizabeth Warren was one of the Obama administration’s more compelling figures in its early days. A law professor who had achieved prominence for her work on consumer issues—especially bankruptcy—she served as chair of a panel overseeing the TARP financial bailout and was later an assistant to the president and special adviser to the secretary of the Treasury. She pushed for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and was thought to be in line to be its head.

Warren had credibility as an expert whose big issue could not have been better aligned with the times. She had written books about the economic storms that were, increasingly, swamping the middle class. While she was a professor of law at Harvard, her Oklahoma roots are blue collar. Her empathy for the middle class and its economic struggles is plainly genuine and passionate. Her books on the subject are compelling enough that Christopher Caldwell wrote of them (and her) in these pages: “Her understanding of the financial crisis is best described as populist, conservative, even right-wing. It arises from what has happened to the American middle class in the past four decades.”

A Harvard law professor who empathized with average Americans and a woman, Warren seemed cut out to run against Brown, and once she announced, the money began rolling in. In the first quarter of 2012, she raised almost $7 million. Brown raised less than half that.

And, of course, Warren’s nascent campaign was covered lavishly (if not slavishly) by the media. This included a firm, schoolmarmish, fingerpointing lecture which she delivered on the matter of class warfare:

You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

One almost expected her to conclude by saying, “So sit up straight, keep quiet, and pay your taxes.” This peroration was a kind of war cry for the left and established Warren as a candidate of tough ideas, a fresh face, and some kind of inevitable political force. The phrase Warren for President began to appear on the Internet. She reacted the way most people would and began, evidently, to believe the extravagant things that were written and said about her. When the Occupy Wall Street movement burst onto the scene, she did not merely endorse it but went so far as to claim that she had “created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do.”

By the spring of 2012, Warren had emerged as a political heavyweight, and Democrats were counting on her to take back their Senate seat in Massachusetts, one they badly needed. Still, it would be a tough, expensive race. Brown would run as a centrist, work-across-the-aisle kind of guy, while he painted her as an elitist Harvard leftist. Warren, meanwhile, would accuse Brown of being . . . well, a Republican. One who took campaign contributions from Wall Street, among other sins.

Her line of attack seemed, on the face of it, cleaner and more likely to draw blood. Brown, after all, is a Republican and he does take contributions from Wall Street. That Elizabeth Warren is an elitist seems a slightly harder case to make. There are those Oklahoma roots and the undeniable (and appealing) efforts on behalf of the middle class, which Caldwell wrote about. She might be teaching at Harvard, but she got there, it seemed, through hard work and not by virtue of birth.

And, then, in April came the story that one blogging wit captured perfectly with the headline: “Funny, She Doesn’t Look Siouxish.”

As just about everyone knows by now, Elizabeth Warren has claimed to be a “native American.” (Cherokee, to be precise, but where’s the pun in that?) This isn’t so unusual among people from Oklahoma, but Warren’s claim was more than just anecdotal bar talk. From 1986 through 1995 she listed herself as a minority in a professional directory of the Association of American Law Schools. First the University of Pennsylvania and then Harvard identified her as one of their “minority” faculty. It is not possible to know if this was a consideration in her hiring, since the schools have not released her employment records. But in the world of elite universities, where diversity is celebrated and quotas are the clandestine order of the day, it worked out nicely for all.

However, Warren could not back up her claim of being 1/32 Cherokee. (She has blonde hair, blue eyes, and decidedly white skin.) This, in spite of the fact that the Cherokee Heritage Center maintains a genealogical research operation at its headquarters in Park Hill, Oklahoma, that can trace such claims back to the Dawes Rolls of the early 20th century and does so routinely. The Boston Globe did publish a story that seemed to endorse Warren’s claim on the basis of an 1894 application for a marriage license, but then printed a retraction, leaving the claim unsupported by any documentary evidence. Things seem likely to remain that way after the Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta’s exhaustive reporting, which explored all the official possibilities. But while Warren may be unable to prove she is a Native American, Franke-Ruta writes, neither is there credible evidence that she gained any professional preference from the claims.

She did, however, contribute some recipes to a cookbook called Pow Wow Chow, edited by her cousin and published by the Five Civilized Tribes Museum of Muskogee. Warren’s byline identified her as “Elizabeth Warren, Cherokee.” Worse, the recipes may not have been original but cribbed from the French chef and New York Times columnist Pierre Franey, whose crab dish was the specialty of a New York restaurant and a favorite of that famous Indian chief, the Duke of Windsor.

The entire matter has been great fodder for local talk radio, blogs, and the Boston Herald. Warren has not backed down, contending that she is going by family lore, that she is proud of her Native-American heritage, and that the entire matter is a distraction. When Ed Schultz asked about the matter, she answered, “Scott Brown and the Republicans would rather talk about anything other than real issues.” Among them, the influence of Wall Street and the banks to which Brown supposedly caved in his negotiations with Barney Frank when, Warren contends, he traded his vote for a weakening of the Dodd-Frank legislation.

If the Cherokee business is, indeed, a distraction, then it is a good one in that it turned the attentions of voters onto the loathsome diversity hustle that they are -otherwise not permitted to talk about. And, of only slightly less importance, it has made a politician who was excessively adored by the media look foolish and human. This is always a good thing.

Warren will still run, then, as the friend of the middle class and enemy of big-money institutions (though, in the minds of some people in Massachusetts, she is employed by one). And she will continue to be supported by the usual suspects, including Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who did a recent fundraiser for her campaign.

While the glow has been dulled a little, one suspects that by November voters will no longer be focusing on the Indian stuff and the election will be what it started out being: a contest between two pretty attractive personalities, both of them with baggage. In Warren’s case, Harvard. In Brown’s, the Republican party.

After all, this is still Massachusetts.

Geoffrey Norman, a writer in Vermont, is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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