Yesterday’s Globe carried one in a series of lengthy profiles tracing the background of the two candidates for United States Senate in Massachusetts this year. This article was about Elizabeth Warren and her career as a law school professor. It’s an important article in that – in my opinion – it made three important points about her, two intentionally and one perhaps unintentionally.
The first point involved the issue of Warren’s past self-identification as having some Native American ancestry. When this arose months ago, Warren explained that she was just repeating family history as told to her by her mother. The Scott Brown camp portrayed it more sinisterly, asserting that it was a false claim that should put Warren’s credibility on all issues in doubt and implying, or leaving it to some of his supporters to imply, that Warren received preferential treatment in hiring because of this. After dominating the news for a couple of weeks, this all died down, presumably because reasonable people in the media and amongst the public concluded it was a non-issue. But politics being what it is, I expect a barrage of Brown TV ads attacking Warren on this issue as we draw nearer to the election. Probably assuming the same scenario, the authors of the Globe piece went to great lengths to examine this issue. Here’s what they wrote:
in two dozen interviews with the Globe, a wide range of professors and administrators who recruited or worked with Warren said her ethnic background played no role in her hiring.
Keep that sentence in mind the next time someone brings up the Native American issue.
The second point of the article was that Warren’s past history is that of a moderate which is not how she has been portrayed. Until 1996 she was a registered Republican and, in the late 1980s when a popular feminist legal philosopher was denied tenure at University of Pennsylvania Law School was denied tenure, Warren, then one of three tenured female professors at Penn, came under criticism for failing to support the feminist cause:
In recent interviews, students who had advocated for [the professor who was denied tenure] said Warren was among the influential voices who had actively opposed her, aligning herself with the administrative establishment. Several female law students from that era said they considered Warren “mainstream” and “conservative.” . . .
“[Warren] was not a rabble-rouser,” said Alix James, the chief executive of a Pennsylvania manufacturing company who graduated from Penn Law in 1988.
“I appreciated that about Professor Warren,” James said. “She didn’t wear a feminist badge. She just got the job done.”
So if you’re one of those who have hesitated to support Elizabeth Warren, thinking her “too liberal”, read this article and then reassess that opinion.
Finally, there’s the issue of the double standard based on gender that still exists in society today. A theme throughout the article is Warren’s “singular ambition” and “sharp elbows”, a trait the authors of the article, one male and one female, portray in a slightly off-putting way. I’ve searched my memory for the many profiles of successful men in politics, business and the law and I never once remember anyone being similarly portrayed even thought most if not all of them were ambitious and had “sharp elbows” in working the way to the top of their professions. But when a woman – be it Elizabeth Warren or anyone else – follows the same path, a path we find laudable in males, it becomes the subject of criticism and that’s just not fair. Much about this year’s campaign is overtly and covertly about the rights of women in our society. This is just another example of why that fight is so critical.