What in the World: Ol’ Cock-and-Bull Elizabeth Warren

Why do politicians lie? Why do they play so loosely-goosely with the truth? They do so for all the reasons we lie to each other on a daily basis. We lie to make people like us, to make people do — or think — what we want them to and occasionally just to see if anyone will call us out on our fabrications in a self-indulgent power move. Is it a shock that putting a dozen narcissistic cynics on a debate stage may result in some less than truthful anecdotes or promises? Not particularly. 

But why bring up Elizabeth Warren’s name? She was a Harvard Law School professor, is a front-runner in the Democratic primaries and seems to have a plan for just about anything you could shake a stick at. Impressive credentials on the surface, to be sure. Unfortunately, she also has a strained relationship with the truth, and it would seem this straining always comes out to her advantage. Shall we take a quick tour of her various deceits and gross exaggerations? 

Our first stop on our E. Warren Tour of Falsehoods is her exaggeration — to her professional benefit — of Cherokee ancestry. “But Luther!” you say, “She does have some Cherokee ancestry!” If you count an ancestor of six to 10 generations ago as sufficient ancestry to merit such a claim, then I am a Spaniard six generations removed and will begin commandeering Dutch Sloops in the name of Queen Rocasolano of Spain. 

But perhaps she used this specious claim only among friends and it in no way advanced her career? It would appear not, being referred to as a “person of color” by staff at Harvard with the Fordham Law Review describing her as Harvard Law’s “First Woman of Color” to be hired. This came at a time (1991) when Harvard Law was under pressure from the state of Massachusetts to be more diverse in its hiring. She also used her supposed heritage on the State Bar in Texas, answering the questionnaire’s racial query with “American Indian.” The Cherokee Nation has asked for an apology and received one from Warren for these exaggerative claims. Let us carry on with this tour elsewhere, there are still so many fibs to get to!

Do you like cookbooks? I like cookbooks. Do you know who likes cooking cookbook submissions with plagiarized recipes? Elizabeth Warren. In the problematically titled “Pow Wow Chow” cookbook, Warren’s submissions are near-identical to previous recipes from Better Homes and Gardens and those of a French chef by the name of Henri Soule. It seems she was too busy with her research on medical bankruptcies to spare a minute to concoct her own omelette with crab meat recipe.

Unfortunately, she has misled about various aspects of motherhood as well. Her claim in 2011 that she was the “first nursing mother to take the bar exam in the state of New Jersey” is completely unsubstantiated. The bar has existed in New Jersey since 1895 and there is no proof that she was the first mother, explicitly, to be nursing and taking the bar. Her campaign says as much when asked about the statement with their reply, “Elizabeth was making a point about the very serious challenges she faced as a working mom — from taking an all-day bar exam when she was still breastfeeding to finding work as a lawyer that would accommodate a mom with two small children.” A common practice on the left is to use a mistruth by a politician to speak to a “larger truth.” 

We see this practice of fabrication in the service of greater truth again when Warren left her teaching job in 1971. She had taught for one year and, according to the minutes from the school board, was offered a second-year contract. According to an interview in 2007, Warren speaks of voluntarily leaving her place of employment all those years ago with no mention of her contract being terminated due to pregnancy. 

It is only when her aspirations of higher political office come in more recently that the story undergoes a revision, where Warren says, “When I was 22 and finishing my first year of teaching, I had an experience millions of women will recognize. By June I was visibly pregnant — and the principal told me the job I’d already been promised for the next year would go to someone else.”

Here again, the mention of the “experience millions of women will recognize” is a call to a larger truth. Just because another woman was unjustly let go from her place of employment does not make Warren’s account true, no matter how much she may try.

Does it matter if Warren lies? It matters to me, but perhaps you compare her to President Trump — who himself is no savant of truth — and she does not seem all that bad. Entirely your call. Just please do keep in mind politicians are not saviors or heroes, nor should we think of them as such. In the words of Shakespeare’s King Lear, “That way madness lies.” 

Thank you for reading. I can be contacted with feedback, ire and positivity at abell@lawrence.edu.