You've got to kind of feel sorry for Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate who's running against short-term Republican incumbent Scott Brown (he won a special election in 2010 to replace the late Ted Kennedy). Everything seemed to be going her way and then—pffft!—it's all going to shit.
Born and raised in a working-class setting that's genuinely rare among academics and politicians, she eventually ended up teaching at Harvard after a stint at another Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania. Best-known as a relentless scold of the 1 Percent, she nonetheless pulled down $429,000 in salary alone in 2011 and could be worth as much as $15 million.
After claiming that most of us were too dim to understand our mortgage and car-loan payment schedules, she was tapped by the Obama administration to create the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which was designed "to protect the financial interests of middle-class families" by regulating and restricting the types of financial products available.
Widely expected to be named the first head of that agency, she instead got thrown under the bus by the Obama adminstration when her nomination looked to be hotly contested.
The tough times have only continued. As a progressive Democrat in a Massachusetts race for Ted Kennedy's old seat, she ought to be enjoying an electoral cakewalk, but she's neck and neck with Brown in most polls at least partly due to her dubious claims of Cherokee heritage. Despite family lore, self-described "high cheekbones," supplying (possibly plagiarized) recipes for "Cold Omelets with Crab Meat" and other dishes in a cookbook called Pow Wow Chow (1984), listing herself in various ethnic professional directories, and being publicly touted by Harvard as a "woman of color," Warren has failed to produce documentation that she has any native-American ancestors. As radio host and MSNBC talking head Michael Smerconish put it in a recent column:
Warren only stopped listing herself as [native American] in 1995, just after she was hired by Harvard. But while she was at Harvard, the Crimson newspaper reported that the university's faculty included one Native American: Warren. And when she received tenure there, another Crimson story said she was the first woman with a minority background to receive tenure.
All of which would be well and good if Warren could substantiate her claim of Native American ancestry, which is a federal requirement when universities report diversity data. Thus far, she has not, and by her own admission, her connection to American Indians is remote....
Ever since this issue was raised by the Boston Herald in April, Warren has stumbled in her efforts to explain her claims of minority status. She initially sought to minimize the controversy by saying she had merely hoped "that I'd get invited to some lunch group or some—maybe some dinner conversation, and I might find some more people like me ... people for whom Native American is part of their heritage and part of their hearts."
Her opponent Scott Brown says that Warren's self-designation goes "right to the integrity and character of a person" because she may have unfairly benefited from affirmative action policies in academia. Warren contests that charge, saying she never identified as native American in hiring situations.
But the question looms over the Brown-Warren race: A Cherokee genealogist is now circulating a death certificate of a family member apparently signed by Warren that further suggests the candidate is talking out of both sides of her mouth.
On the surface, the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Warren is the least convincing Indian since Paul Newman starred in Hombre. But if Warren's evasive replies to inquiries about her ancestry cost her the election, she can at least take comfort in knowing she's hardly alone in passing herself off as having Indian blood.
Here are five other memorable fake Indians from America's past.
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