Washington Post editorial writer and liberal blogger Jonathan Capehart is puzzled. Why does the "non-issue" of Harvard Law professor and Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren's Native American ancestry "require so much attention?" he asked last week.
When Warren was teaching at Pennsylvania, Texas and Houston law schools, she identified herself as Indian -- or, to be politically correct, Native American.
Then she was hired at Harvard and dropped the Native American from her biographical description. Harvard Law today says it has one faculty member of Native American heritage. But it won't say which one.
Capehart argues that this shouldn't matter because Warren's claim is accurate. When the issue first broke, I thought that was likely. Warren grew up in Oklahoma, much of which was once the Indian Territory. Many people there have Indian ancestors.
And a researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society found that in a transcript of an 1894 marriage application, Warren's great-great-great-grandmother listed herself as Cherokee.
It's a heritage to be proud of. The Cherokee were one of the "civilized tribes," and their leader Sequoyah created an ingenious 86-letter alphabet. You can see it, together with English, on street signs in Tahlequah, Okla.
Let's assume the 1894 document is accurate. That makes Warren one-thirty-second Native American. George Zimmerman, the Florida accused murderer, had a black grandmother. That makes him a quarter black, four times as black as Warren is Indian, though The New York Times describes him as a "white Hispanic."
What's wrong with what Warren did? Capehart seems to understand that. "The implication in these stories is that Warren used minority status to advance her career," he writes.
Well, yes. When she was hired, Harvard Law had just denied tenure to a woman teacher and was being criticized for not having enough minorities and females on its faculty.
Of course, Harvard and Warren say her claim to minority status had nothing to do with her being hired. And if it did, no one is going to say so. Nothing to see here; just move on.
The important thing is the Warren story illustrates the rottenness of our system of racial quotas and preferences. Although the people in charge of administering them deny this, just about everyone with eyes to see knows that you're more likely to be hired and promoted if you have checked one of the non-Asian minority boxes: black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander.