Difficult time appear to cal for action, but they demand first and foremost character and judgment. Unfortunately, Sen Elizabeth Warren failed spectacularly at demonstrating both.
Her desire to take a new approach to countering bullying and nonsense in public discourse is understandable, but it takes a lot more than a cute gimmick. Worse, her inability to navigate the delicate issues of race and identity have demonstrated that Democratic leadership is still generally clueless about this topic and will continue to only make things worse.
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. If Republicans, led by Trump, want to make a big deal over her indelicate recounting of family lore about her Native heritage the problem should be faced head-on with something decisive. After all, didn’t we learn from Hillary Clinton that ignoring the nonsense only allows it to grow and fester into a cancer which cannot be controlled?
This is no small matter, especially for women seeking leadership. Without strong archetypes women have to define themselves as leaders rather than simply fit into easy existing identities. Every one has to identify themselves before their image is crafted by the opposition.
Clinton faced this by bravely soldiering on, which was clearly a mistake. The amount of nonsense and lies about her is breathtaking in scope, and most of it was never directly countered. If you believe that 90% of what has been said about her is ridiculous, which it certainly is, she still looks like a horrible person. If 99% can be discounted, she’s more trustworthy than the average politician at a high level. The truth is probably somewhere in that range, but who can tell?
In this sick and twisted world, Warren tried to get ahead of it all with a DNA test that showed she did indeed have some Native blood. It was a horrible mistake, and too clever by more than half.
The most immediate problem is how, by playing the opposition’s game, she stumbled into a place of terrible pain for most Natives. It’s not about blood, it’s about culture and the genocide that destroyed it completely. Playing a game of blood is white supremacist territory all around, the language of the conquerors. It should never have been considered.
On top of that, it appears that Sen Warren is taking this far too personally. That is somewhat understandable, especially given that one rap against Clinton was that she never took any of the nonsense leveled at her personally enough. But it tells us that the bullies have already won, that they got to her. It does not look decisive, it looks weak.
This probably will make it impossible for Sen Warren to run for president now, which is sad. Nothing good can come from gimmicks like this other than more pain and a clear demonstration that Democratic leadership is indeed not just too pale but personally and emotionally very white.
It seems strange to pile onto her like so many other people have, but several lessons need to be taken from this sorry episode. The desire to confront bullies and change the discourse is essential, but this is not the way to do it. Playing their game means that they have already won. While Clinton made a terrible mistake by not engaging, the situation calls for a leader who is very much above the nonsense and noise.
We have now sacrificed two very capable women in high positions to different attempts to work through the lack of basic decency in our politics. That’s the terrible shame of all of this. Women need to be in leadership positions, but sadly they have to demonstrate a level of skill which is far above and beyond that of men to get through what we have now. It’s almost impossible to imagine any of them succeeding. Yet it is possible with strong character and judgment coupled with a the ability to clearly define the real issues with intellect, determination, and empathy.
At least we can all hope as much. What we do know is that playing the games of the supremacists has not worked out for anyone. There is no gimmick that can get us through this.