Jeff Jacoby

To be fair, Warren hasn't repeated that comment. And Brown now denies implying that his opponent can't be a Native American because she doesn't look like one -- "I never made that suggestion at all," he told reporters.

But neither campaign has let the issue die.

For months Republicans have had a field day with Warren's claim to be Cherokee on the strength of unverified "family lore" about her great-great-great grandmother. Brown's TV spot milks the "Fauxcahontas" angle with clips of news stories reporting on the story. "Warren admitted to identifying herself as Native American to employers," one broadcast journalist says. "Something genealogists said they have zero evidence of," intones another. Firing back in her own 30-second commercial, Warren accuses Brown of vilifying her parents. "Scott Brown can continue attacking my family," she says, speaking directly to the camera, "but I'm going to keep fighting for yours."

None of this would matter if it weren't for the fact that nearly half a century after the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, racial discrimination – in the form of affirmative action – is entrenched in American society. Warren insists that she "never got any benefit because of my heritage," and that the only reason she listed herself as an American Indian in professional law-school directories was to be invited to lunches "with people who are like I am." Her explanations provoked so much ridicule because they were ridiculous. Everyone knows that minority status can confer serious advantages when employers place a premium on "diversity," and use racial preferences and set-asides to achieve it.

Martin Luther King memorably dreamed of a nation in which people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, and in much of American life his dream has become a reality.

But not within the contemporary diversity industry, where individual men and women are first and foremost members of categories, to be grouped by race, by ethnicity, by color. That's the logic behind a directory of "minority law teachers." It was also the mindset behind Jim Crow and "separate but equal."

The real significance of Warren's supposed Native American heritage isn't that she lacks proof that one of her 32 great-great-great grandparents was a Cherokee. It isn't that she believes the stories she was told as a girl. It isn't that by identifying herself as a racial minority she may, in Brown's words, have seized "an advantage that others were entitled to."

It is that in 21st-century America, no such advantage should exist. Racial preferences should by now be artifacts of history, not tools for hiring law professors. Two generations ago Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP declared that "classifications and distinctions based on race or color have no moral or legal validity in our society." Do the Massachusetts Senate candidates agree or disagree? Now there's a question worthy of debate.


Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.