Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Making the best of not only a bad situation but an almost impossible situation

All the commentary I am seeing, left and right, seem disposed to the idea that Elizabeth Warren's release of her DNA analysis indicating that she probably had between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American heritage was a dreadful own-goal and reflected a not-ready for prime time poltician. Everyone assumes she did this in preparation for a 2020 Presidential run, and I suspect that that is true.

This article reflects much of the tenor of the many pieces I have seen. From Trump's Superpower: Making His Opponents Do The Stupidest Possible Thing by Ben Shapiro.
President Trump has a superpower. His superpower is that he can irritate people into doing the dumbest things imaginable. How else to explain Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) hilarious self-own today, in which she, in preparation for a 2020 run, released a DNA test supposedly showing her Native American ancestry – a test that showed she was somewhere between 1/64th and 1/1024th Native American? That test provided no solid evidence of Native American ancestry – and even the Cherokee Nation slammed Warren:
A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America. Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation. Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.
Shapiro is of the right, of course he would be likely to take this tack.

Democrats have been as critical though somewhat less explicit. The message from their side is more of the nature that this is an ill-timed distraction from a critical election in three weeks.

I wonder. Is this such a ham-fisted move? Sure, it looks that way.

But look at what most the discussion has been about. Academic (though important) discussions as to the distinction between claiming heritage versus being enrolled in a tribe versus claiming culture versus claiming genealogical descent. There are legitimate and important issues in there, I am not dismissing them. But I suspect they are effectively moot.

My view is that Warren has been effective in distracting the discussion from the real issue which is a much greater threat to her aspirations.

My read on this is that Warren opportunistically took advantage of the fads and pressures of the time (late seventies through early nineties). Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was trying, through administrative edict, to rectify past inequalities and injustices. Right goal, wrong methods in my view.

They flirted with quotas and implemented set-asides. As a member of a large American business, I recall the two or three years in which HR was snuffling around trying to find members of protected or disadvantaged minorities among our employee ranks. In order to remain on bidders lists for any client that was related to government or did business with the government (most of the market) we had to demonstrate appropriate numbers to show that we were clean of the taint of discrimination.

Enterprises had to show the numbers, they were desperate to show diversity. And for anyone willing to strike a faustian bargain of trading on identity rather than ability, in those early days of unclear definitions, there was huge personal opportunity. A white Senior Manager somewhere in the promotion pipeline, who had lived in the mainstream as a white person all his/her life, by the discovery that grandmother was a quarter Cherokee, suddenly moved to front of the line and was a certainty for promotion to partner because there were no Native American partners.

All sorts of people discovered Native American heritage, or Asian (before Asian-Americans got shifted into the "honorary white" category in the ever-evolving calculus of ideological racism), or Hispanic. It took a few years to settle down on acceptable definitions as to who counted and who did not. But it was all a numbers game. Same employee base, counted differently because of bureaucratic definitions. And it was all in furtherance of personal and commercial advantage.

If you could claim some tenable position as a disadvantaged group regardless of your actual circumstances, there were great immediate rewards. High social status, high income, high education white individuals, suddenly became "hispanic" because their last name was Lopez, as an extreme example.

So a well intended program (help disadvantaged people) suddenly became an institutionalized racist program, ignoring reality, advantaging the already privileged and rarely making a difference to those truly disadvantaged.

That was the milieu at the time when Elizabeth Warren early in her legal career elected to take that faustian bargain. Someone who had never been identified as a Cherokee Indian, who lived as a white person, who had no cultural or lived experience as a Cherokee, suddenly became, to her personal career advantage and to the EEOC reporting advantage of her employers, Native American.

And now that Faustian bargain has come back to bite her. There are all sorts of apologists out there. She wasn't promoted because of her Native American heritage. She wasn't advantaged over others because of her claim. Nonsense. People were given incentives to mark identities and they did so, to their personal benefit and to the advantage of their employers.

It was an embarrassing, not to say despicable gambit. Akin to the able-bodied parking in handicap spaces.

Regardless of whether you like or despise the racializing of government and set-asides and quotas and affirmative action, most Americans agree that there are historical circumstances that are regrettable and that people materially suffering today ought to have some sort of relief.

But, supporters and opponents of affirmative action both condemn those who make false claims in order to gain status or benefit. And that feeling is not confined to affirmative action. We despise the able-bodied handicap parkers, we despise the Stolen Valor claimants, we despise frauds, people who game the system, etc.

I think that has all along been Warren's Achille's heel. She committed career fraud for personal benefit in the place of people who were actually suffering and were the actual intended beneficiaries.

If she can make the discussion a dry academic debate about what percentage of DNA warrants a claim of Native American heritage, that is the least bad outcome for what is otherwise a political ulcer that will bring her down.

The alternative is to discuss the fact that she scammed a well-intended social program for personal career gain while having no characteristic that would otherwise qualify her. She was not in poverty. She was not socially identified as Native American. She did not live as a Native American. She did not share a Native American culture.

That is the charge that is most damaging to her because it reflects a combination of hypocrisy, callousness, selfishness, and moral defect which most would find unacceptable.

From this perspective, this Faustian bargain is unavoidably going to have to be addressed. Releasing a DNA study (and the fact that it is a custom study and not a standard one is suspect) just before midterm elections almost guaranties that the discussion is going to be academic (what percentage) as well as quickly superseded by campaign reporting.

I concede that Warren might be a political rube. It is plausible and even possible. But I do not exclude the scenario in which this maneuver is that of a very canny player. She is going to have to address her earlier and rather heinous ploy of gaming the racial benefits policies for career gain. One way or another. Sooner or later.

With this release of the DNA study I think she has actually achieved the best outcome. She can say she has at least some DNA heritage. She can show that she has already dealt with it. Six months from now, people will remember that there was a bunch of noise and that there were debates about percentages. And that's it. But as soon as you argue percentages, you have lost that debate.

She is to some small degree Native American. That is all that will be remembered. The impending elections will almost certainly preclude the evolution of this discussion back to the underlying sin - that of defrauding the public (as reflected in public policies) for personal gain. That is the pertinent discussion and with this strategy of release before the elections, that discussion is almost certain not to occur. My suspicion is that Warren has cleverly (though selfishly because this will distract from the campaign for Democrats) shaped this the best possible way.

Whether it will work in the long run remains to be seen. But I think she has been selfishly clever about making the best of not only a bad situation but an almost impossible situation.

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