The Massachusetts Senate race has taken several dramatic turns in recent days. As Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren air dueling ads on Warren's bogus claim that she has Native American ancestry, a breaking story about Warren's past legal advocacy threatens to undermine her central campaign theme. The Boston Globe reports:
US Senator Scott Brown has attacked Elizabeth Warren in recent days for her legal work on behalf of Travelers Insurance in an asbestos case, asserting that it undermines her reputation as a consumer advocate. But Travelers is not the only large corporation Warren has represented. Warren also helped write a petition to the US Supreme Court for LTV Steel in the 1990s, assisting the former industrial conglomerate in its fight against a congressional requirement that it pay millions of dollars into a fund for its retired coal miners’ health care. Her advocacy on behalf of a large corporation, opposing a mandate to pay for the health benefits of blue-collar retirees and their families, would seem to undercut her image as a middle-class champion, the central message of the Democrat’s Senate campaign against Brown, the Republican.
Warren's campaign says she was merely standing up for a larger principle that could help aggrieved workers in the future. They also argue that the candidate's role in the controversial case was relatively minor; she authored a single brief and received "only" $10,000 in related compensation. I recognize that sum may not be an unusual or exorbitant legal fee, but I wonder how many of the middle class voters whom Warren claims to champion will still raise an eyebrow, especially given her "minor role" excuse. (Remember when Mitt Romney was skewered as "out of touch" for his joking $10,000 bet proposal at a GOP debate?) Another problem for Warren here is that she finds herself on the opposite side of other Democrats and liberals -- not to mention the workers in the case:
But opponents, including the Clinton administration, argued that LTV and other companies challenging the statute were trying to take advantage of the bankruptcy laws to avoid their responsibility. And mine workers and their advocates also argued that if LTV or any other company tried to avoid paying into the Coal Act fund, the entire fund could collapse. “No exception should be made to this act,” Richard Trumka, then president of the United Mine Workers, told a congressional panel in 1993. “When it unravels, you will have roughly 200,000 miners and beneficiaries out there that will lose their health care.”
[Mass Live story] ... Mine workers and their advocates opposed Warren’s position, arguing that LTV was trying to avoid paying its fair share. Peter Buscemi, an attorney who represented the fund, told both the Globe and Herald that retirees feared that if LTV did not pay into the Coal Act fund, other companies would try to get out of their obligations.
An interesting bit of turnabout for the Queen of Fair Shares, isn't it? I'm not arguing that Warren's legal position on the matter was necessarily wrong on the merits, and facing strident opposition Richard Trumka's AFL-CIO certainly does not undermine one's position, in and of itself. But as a self-stylized hero to America's working and middle classes -- and as someone whose governmental career peaked when she headed a new federal agency ostensibly designed to protect "the little guy" -- Warren is now grappling with a serious threat to her brand. Headlines like this aren't helpful:
Warren is also battling accusations that she illegally practiced law in Massachusetts without being licensed by the state. While we're on the subject of authenticity, here's Scott Brown's new attack ad dredging up the nagging flap that just won't go away:
The "I don't think so, but who knows?" answer at the tail end of the spot seems pretty prophetic now that the coal miners' healthcare fight is in the news. And in case you're wondering, Warren's counter-attack against all of this reprimands Scott Brown for targeting "her family," insisting that her parents told her that her mother had some Cherokee blood in her lineage. That's all well and good, but family lore does not qualify someone as an ethnic minority. According to genealogists, Warren appears to be 0/32 Cherokee -- science that family whispers, "high cheek bones" and plagiarized Pow Wow Chow recipes can't refute. In spite of the dearth of evidence, Warren self-identified as a Native American as an adult, a designation that clearly accrued to her benefit as she climbed her career ladder. She says that she received zero professional advantage by listing herself as a Native American and cites assurances from her former colleagues (some of whom are now campaign donors) as proof. This assertion defies common sense and quite a bit of evidence. Warren's decision to exploit her rumored --at best -- heritage goes to character and credibility. (She mysteriously dropped the Native American pretense once she secured tenure at Harvard). Even some Left-leaning columnists in Boston are urging Warren to issue a mea culpa, ask voters for forgiveness, then try to finally put the issue behind her. Until she does so, her campaign will continue to be dogged by the issue, and she'll continue to endure humiliating scenes like this.