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Politics & Policy

Rebutting Trump’s ‘Pocahontas’ Jab, Elizabeth Warren Releases Ancestry Test

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Capitol Hill (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Elizabeth Warren sort of, kind of, finds her Native American ancestor; why so many American elites fell so hard for the Mohammed bin Salman sales pitch; why you can’t find happiness in a life consumed by politics; and why the media searches so desperately for the next Great Southern Democratic Hope.

Elizabeth Warren: Here’s Proof That I’m 1/32 to 1/256 Native American!

Back in January, the Boston Globe, Elizabeth Warren’s hometown newspaper, wrote a lengthy article about her claims to Native American ancestry, pointing out that beyond the mockery on the right, the Massachusetts senator also faced:

. . . discomfort on the left and among some tribal leaders and activists that Warren has a political blind spot when it comes to the murkiness surrounding her story of her heritage, which blew up as an issue in her victorious 2012 Massachusetts Senate race. In recent months, Daily Show host Trevor Noah mocked her for claiming Native American ancestry and the liberal website ThinkProgress published a scathing criticism of her by a Cherokee activist who said she should apologize.

This morning, Warren revealed results of a DNA test showing that she’s Native American! Technically. She could be anywhere from 1/32 Native American to 1/256 Native American.  That’s anywhere from one-tenth of one percent to three percent.

Is this . . . vindication?

Senator Elizabeth Warren has released a DNA test that provides “strong evidence’’ she had a Native American in her family tree dating back 6 to 10 generations, an unprecedented move by one of the top possible contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.

He concluded that “the vast majority” of Warren’s ancestry is European, but he added that “the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor.”

. . . Bustamante calculated that Warren’s pure Native American ancestor appears in her family tree “in the range of 6-10 generations ago.” That timing fits Warren’s family lore, passed down during her Oklahoma upbringing, that her great-great-great-grandmother, O.C. Sarah Smith, was at least partially Native American.

What Warren’s rollout dodges is the question of whether one ancestor, six to ten generations ago, justifies listing oneself as “Native American” in faculty guides. Warren has long insisted that her self-description as Native never played a role in any academic acceptance, hiring, or promotion decision. But as the Globe noted, earlier in Warren’s career, Harvard sure liked putting the spotlight on her self-proclaimed ethnic identity:

Warren also listed herself as a minority in a legal directory published by the Association of American Law Schools from 1986 to 1995. She’s never provided a clear answer on why she stopped self-identifying.

She was also listed as a Native American in federal forms filed by the law schools at Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania where she worked.

And in 1996, as Harvard Law School was being criticized for lacking diversity, a spokesman for the law school told the Harvard Crimson that Warren was Native American.

Put another way, if you thought you were “X,” and then a DNA test proved you were 1/32 to 1/256 X . . . would you still feel comfortable running around claiming to be X?

And the claim of distant Native ancestry doesn’t quite mesh with the stories Warren has been telling for years, that her parents eloped because her paternal grandparents didn’t want her father to marry her mother “because she is part Cherokee and part Delaware.” Under the rules of the Cherokee Nation, Warren is unlikely to qualify as Native.

Why So Many American Fell So Hard for the Mohammed bin Salman Sales Pitch

The Turkish government’s claim that the Saudi government killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi during his visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul is forcing a dramatic, wholesale reevaluation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in U.S media, business, and political circles.

On Friday, I noted that if you want to say the Trump administration’s been too cozy and naively optimistic about Prince Mohammed bin Salman, fine. But let’s not pretend that a lot of prominent U.S. media didn’t buy into the same Saudi spin.

Let’s also remember that way back in 2002, National Review had a cover piece on the Saudi royal family entitled “Desert Rats.” A lot of foreign-policy conservatives spent the last two decades pushing for a tougher line with Saudi Arabia, generally running into a brick wall of opposition from George W. Bush. (Doesn’t anybody remember the action movie The Kingdom? Didn’t anybody read Christopher Buckley’s Florence of Arabia?)

But the House of Saud always had an almost literal killer counterargument, that they were probably better than any regime that would replace them. Often the world of foreign policy gives you no good options, just lots of variously bad ones. Accepting the Saudis’ help where they offered, and trying to gently nudge them into becoming slightly less brutal and slightly less bad on women’s and minority rights, was probably the safest option.

Decades of American foreign-policy leaders accepting an uncomfortable partnership with the Saudis, particularly after 9/11, set the stage for lots of folks to buy the spin about Mohammed bin Salman being a great modernizer and reformer because they wanted to believe good news, and the Saudi government put a lot of effort into getting Americans to believe it.

The M. B. S. spring tour to the United States hit every major institution of elite Establishment respectability:

He talked about the movie business with Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Dwayne Johnson over dinner at Rupert Murdoch’s house. He discussed space travel with Richard Branson in the California desert, and philanthropy with Bill Gates and technology with Jeff Bezos in Seattle. He visited Harvard and MIT, brokered arms deals with President Trump and sat down with Wall Street financiers. He even met with Oprah Winfrey.

And people walked away dazzled:

“I think it’s brilliant and I will tell you why,” said Adam Aron, the chief executive of the movie theater chain AMC, who has met with the prince. “The crown prince is aware that Saudi Arabia has had a difficult image in the United States, because it’s been such a conservative country for so many decades. He wants to transform Saudi society in ways that will be very appealing to Americans.”

Back on April 4, Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock, wrote on Instagram, “A pleasure to have a private dinner with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, his royal family and distinguished cadre. Fascinating experience to hear his deep rooted, yet modern views on the world and certainly the positive growth he desires for his country.” The point of this is not to point out some sort of flaw in Future-President Johnson’s foreign-policy acumen but to illustrate the wide range of the Saudi public-relations offensive.

Don’t begrudge The Rock or a movie-theater mogul for not being sufficiently attuned to M.B.S’s true character or philosophy of consolidating power; that’s not his job. It is more or less the job of America’s foreign correspondents who specialize in covering the region.

Thomas Friedman:

Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.

CNBC, March 27:

That was just one of many carefully-considered reforms that had taken place at home. The man responsible for them is Mohammed bin Salman, 32, the crown prince in line to be the country’s next sovereign. “MBS,” as he is known everywhere, has been making global headlines for his bold steps to reshape Saudi society. Women driving is but one of them. A dramatic fight against corruption and an ambitious vision for the year 2030 are others.

The New Yorker:

M.B.S. gives the impression of being comfortable with Western mores. In meetings with American women, he shakes their hands and looks them in the eye, which not every Saudi official will do. Once, during a meeting at the home of Secretary of State John Kerry, M.B.S. spotted a grand piano, walked over, and began playing the “Moonlight” Sonata. His favorite diversion is Call of Duty, the video game. But his English is halting, and among his brothers—he has nine — he is unusually bound to Saudi Arabia. “M.B.S. is unlike his brothers, several of whom were educated in the West and one of whom has a doctorate from Oxford,” a longtime friend of M.B.S. told me. “If you look at them and you talk to them, they are basically soft. And there is this quality to M.B.S. — the guy’s not soft. He has a lot of charisma. He’s a lot like Bill Clinton. He makes you feel like you’re super important when you’re talking to him. He really puts on a charm that is unmistakable.

Why did everybody swoon for this guy? Because they really wanted somebody to swoon over.

Searching for Personal Meaning in Politics Is a Quick Route to an Unhappy Life

Leave it to Kevin Williamson to more precisely diagnose the phenomena I described a few weeks ago, the sense that a lot of people in politics are projecting their own personal issues onto the realm of politics:

At that level, this is about something other than politics per se. I have spent about 30 years covering political protests of various kinds, and, of course, people rarely show up at a protest because they are happy about something. But many of the people one encounters at such events (from Occupy Wall Street to the tea-party rallies) are categorically unhappy, bereft and adrift in a way that is only tangentially related to politics. They turn to politics to provide a sense of meaning that might once have been provided by family or religion, two anchors from which many of us enlightened moderns have cut ourselves away. But politics provides a sense of meaning only when we convince ourselves that there is a great deal at stake. I do not know how many planning-and-zoning meetings I have been to, how many suburban school-board meetings and small-town municipal board meetings. Rarely does one get the sense that there is much that is urgent going on. They are boring, and, generally, free of drama. (Not always. A visit with the San Bernardino, Calif., city leadership will cause one to despair for democracy.) That isn’t very much compared to communing with God or being a father. The people who fall into politics as a source of personal meaning must believe that what’s at stake is . . . everything . . . or at least something meaningful, otherwise — well, that’s obvious enough. Political fanaticism is not rooted in ideology. It is the hollow clanging sound that social life makes when banging up against an empty soul.

The angry partisan cannot believe that life is good, because he must then ask himself: If life is good, then why am I not enjoying it? Why do I feel so alone, so frustrated, and so meaningless?

ADDENDUM: If you’re wondering what exactly made the media fall in love with Beto O’Rourke, my piece from the weekend details the endless media search for the Great Southern Democratic Hope.


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