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April 20, 2019

How to talk about Elizabeth Warren: Focus on her expertise and her ideas, and ignore Trump’s obsession with her ancestry

February 12, 2019
Brainly lady. (Elise Amendola / AP)

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, President Trump is using low, race-baiting attacks to try and discredit Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of the growing crowd of Democrats running to unseat Trump in next year’s elections.

The great surprise is that members of the media are passively doing Trump’s dirty work for him.

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Warren, a brilliant legal scholar, has explained and acknowledged, in tedious detail, how she grew up hearing that her family lineage includes some Native American blood. On some faculty and bar association forms — after she was hired as a Harvard professor, and after being admitted to the Texas bar — she identified herself as Native American.

“My mother’s family was part Native American. And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship,” Warren told the National Congress of American Indians last year. “So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped.”

Right-wing media became obsessed with the issue — not that they give a damn about Native Americans.

Last year, a radio show hack named Howie Carr pulled a prank by getting a pen cap that Warren may have briefly held with her teeth; Carr then made a big show of trying (unsuccessfully) to conduct a DNA test based on traces of saliva on the pen.

Warren eventually took a DNA test that confirmed she does, indeed, have a small amount of Native American genetic ancestry.

It’s literally the least important thing about Warren. I first interviewed her shortly after her 2003 book, “The Two-Income Trap,” which broke ground by analyzing a vast database of American bankruptcies.

Warren’s research concluded — and sounded a national alarm — that the average American family is running on a financial treadmill, working hard but inevitably falling behind. Her warnings became real with the 2008 mortgage crash. Congressional Democrats responded by enacting Warren’s call for a federal watchdog agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

She went on to make history in 2012 as the first woman ever elected a U.S. senator in Massachusetts by unseating incumbent Scott Brown.

All pretty impressive. But you’d never know it from the coverage of her just-announced candidacy for President.

Standing before a crowd of supporters Saturday, Warren returned to her roots as a scholar of bankruptcy and inequality.

“The man in the White House is not the cause of what’s broken, he’s just the latest — and most extreme — symptom of what’s gone wrong in America. A product of a rigged system that props up the rich and the powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else,” she said. “We can’t afford to just tinker around the edges — a tax credit here, a regulation there. Our fight is for big, structural change.”

She also diagnosed the grim, creeping inequality that is eroding the nation daily. “Since the early 1970s — adjusted for inflation — wages in America have barely budged. But the cost of housing has shot up nearly two-thirds. The cost of college has more than tripled. And 40% of Americans can’t find $400 to cover an emergency,” she said.

That vitally important message from a literal expert on the subject — and her plans to restructure the tax system and put tough restrictions on lobbyists — gets lost every time Trump snidely refers to Warren as “Pocahontas.” And media nitwits repeat the President’s racist jibes and solemnly ponder “whether she can put this controversy behind her.”

Eight years ago, Trump promoted the blatant falsehood of birtherism, claiming he’d found evidence that the first black President wasn’t born in America. He’s going back to the same poisoned well with Warren.

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Political observers shouldn’t take the bait. The problems Warren has talked about for decades need to be part of a national discussion — one that Trump is desperate to avoid.

Louis is political anchor of NY1 News.

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