With public figures, the personal gestures can unsettle by Marjorie Arons-Barron
The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog. Check it out too.
In 1978, I was covering Republican U. S. Senator Ed Brooke’s reelection campaign for the Boston Phoenix. Both on primary and election day, I was glued to him. Where he went, I went. Sometimes it was meet-and-greets with people. Sometimes it was consultations with staff. The possibility of defeat hung in the air, but he was philosophical. There wasn’t much left for him to do to affect the outcome. So we went out for lunch.
Brooke had been going through a nasty divorce, and the Globe had found contradictory statements he had made about $49,000 he had borrowed, mostly from his mother-in-law and some from a supporter. There were other hints of financial messiness, but, still, the man had been a great Senator, a real leader on civil rights, women’s rights, and subsidized housing. He was the first Republican to call for Richard Nixon’s resignation after the Saturday Night Massacre. Deep down I hoped Brooke would win reelection.
For lunch we went to the Union Oyster House and sat at the raw bar. I had a cup of clam chowder, and he had either oysters or cherry stones. And the fellow shucking the delicacy kept them coming and coming, well beyond the number on the menu. There was something a little slithery about Brooke’s ease at accepting the largesse, and it made me very uncomfortable…as if it were, in a small way, emblematic of something larger.
Fast forward to 2012 and the Elizabeth Warren campaign. I recently went to a house party for supporters. Warren was not taking questions directly from the crowd, which I considered a big mistake. Worse, written questions had to be crammed onto a 3” square Post-It. When Warren had finished her powerful formal presentation, someone brought to the microphone a straw basket with people’s Post-It questions. Well, I thought, at least she was drawing at random. First. Second. Third. But then, no, she picked one up, didn’t like it, put it back and took another. A small gesture, but unsettling.
Like the fleeting moment with Ed Brooke, I thought, Warren’s tiny gesture seemed to speak to something larger. In Warren’s case, it spoke to naivete, amateurism, first-time candidatitis. It prompted the very same queasiness that even some of her strongest supporters have felt around her mishandling of questions about her Cherokee heritage.
Yesterday’s Globe wrote at length about the timing of Warren’s statements about her Native American roots. Much of the timeline was clarified. But then there was the caption under her photo, noting she had “acknowledged she had told Harvard and Penn that she was Native American. When the issue first surfaced, Warren said she only learned Harvard was claiming her as a minority when she first read it in the Boston Herald.” Both could be true. She might have told them but not known that they had used the information in diversity filings until she read it in the Herald. But, as the Washington Post notes today, the optics of the back and forth are all wrong.
Scott Brown continues playing this for all he can. Polls show the public is not yet being swayed by the story. But Warren needs a decisive victory in tomorrow’s Democratic state convention to rekindle the enthusiasm among party faithful that she sparked from her emergence as a candidate until the Cherokee story broke a month ago. Maybe then the media will focus on the larger issues facing us all, and what the candidates can do to address them. I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.