Will Maddow take him on: Last evening, David Gregory moderated the second debate between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren.
He devoted the first eighteen minutes to the dispute, or pseudo-dispute, about Elizabeth Warren’s ancestry.
Later, on the Maddow show, Barney Frank said this about that: “I was frankly disappointed in David Gregory’s choice of topics. To spend many minutes on this non-issue of Cherokee ancestry and about a minute and a half on Afghanistan is about as bad a set of priorities as I have seen.”
Did Gregory make a bad choice of topics? We suppose it depends on the degree of interest this dispute is generating in Massachusetts.
For ourselves, we would offer a criticism of the way he explored the topic: He never asked Warren to explain the nature or degree of her Native American ancestry.
If memory serves, Warren said she does consider herself Native American. The Boston Herald quotes her this way: “I consider myself as having a Native American background...that's what I am.”
That's fine with us! But on what basis does Warren so consider herself? What's the basis of her claim to this ancestry? Gregory never tried to nail that down. Why spend eighteen minutes on this topic without asking about that? (We don’t have a transcript of last night’s event.)
Back on the Maddow show, Rachel Maddow was repeating the opaque formulation she has employed in the past few weeks. She didn’t join Frank in criticizing Gregory. Instead, she complained about Brown’s continuing conduct, using a vague turn of phrase:
MADDOW (10/1/12): Today was the second debate between Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. There are two surprising things you`ll remember in the first debate. First was the vehemence with which Scott Brown attacked Elizabeth Warren on the basis of race in the first debate, saying he could tell by looking at the Oklahoma-born law professor that she wasn’t really Native American.In that first debate, Brown made a clumsy or foolish statement when he implied that you can tell someone’s ancestry simply by visual inspection. Subsequently, his staff behaved very foolishly.
That was followed up by two Scott Brown TV ads attacking Elizabeth Warren on the basis of race. It was also followed by a bunch of Scott Brown staffers at a political event mocking Native Americans with fake war whoops and tomahawk chops.
Tonight, Scott Brown addressed the same controversy and kept arguing that race is relevant and a decision the voters have to make in the Massachusetts Senate race. He still did not apologize for staffers making fun of Native Americans even though the principal chief of the Cherokee tribe asked him to. And he failed to explain how he knows Elizabeth Warren is not Native American—you know, other than just by looking at her.
Last night, Maddow said that Brown still hasn’t apologized for his staff's conduct, although the Boston Globe reported that his spokesperson released this statement: "Senator Brown has spoken to his entire staff including the individuals involved in this unacceptable behavior and issued them their one and only warning that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.”
That said, Brown’s a pol and we critique journalists. We were struck last night to see Maddow clinging to last week’s formulation: Brown has been “attacking Warren on the basis of race.”
Actually, Brown has been saying that Warren sought professional advancement by saying she is Native American when she actually isn’t. Since that is the actual accusation, it would have made sense for Gregory to try to determine the nature and extent of Warren’s Native American ancestry, if he was going to spend all that time on the topic.
Meanwhile, Maddow seems extremely reluctant to voice the actual accusation. Instead, she offers pleasing weasel words about being “attacked on the basis of race.”
Elizabeth Warren is “being attacked on the basis of race!” That sounds like a very bad thing—but George Wallace was “attacked on the basis of race” by liberals for many years. In short, there’s nothing wrong with “being attacked on the basis of race,” depending on the nature of the conduct and the complaint.
Maddow seems unwilling to state the nature of Brown’s complaint.
For ourselves, we have no idea what the facts of this matter may be. This strikes us as a tangential matter—but then, we said the same thing about Mitt Romney’s behavior in high school.
That said, if someone makes a bogus claim of minority status to gain career advancement, that’s a ratty thing to do. We have no idea if Warren did that, but there’s nothing obviously wrong with “attacking” someone “on the basis of” that kind of conduct.
This brings us back to last week’s discussion between Maddow and Melissa Harris-Perry. Maddow kept saying, very vaguely, that Brown was “campaign[ing] against Elizabeth Warren on the basis of her race.” In turn, Harris-Perry offered one of her trademark outings, featuring extremely long-winded, pseudo-insightful, windy race bafflegab.
Eventually, we got this exchange:
MADDOW (9/24/12): You know, the way that Scott Brown is using—the way that he’s problematizing race in this case, right, the way that he is using it, is to make this argument that Elizabeth Warren might have used her Native American heritage to get ahead through affirmative action. What do you think that he’s getting at there and how connected that is to other claims about essentially stoking resentment on this issue?Just as an aside, does Warren actually “claim that she’s brown?” To watch this whole segment, click here.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it’s quirky, because you know, to the extent that that should be the claim, it ought to be sort of people of color would feel irritation about it, the idea that someone who is socially constructed by most people who look at her as white. And this idea that, well wait a minute, to the extent that affirmative action is in part about redressing historic wrongs based on discrimination, it should be black communities, Latinos, and indigenous peoples who would say, wait a minute, we don’t want someone who appears to have the visual image of whiteness to take advantage of things that were meant to redress historic wrongs.
So, it’s a weird kind of claim because it's like she’s so white, you should be mad that she claims that she’s brown?
In this one instance, Maddow at least semi-explained what Brown is claiming—why he’s “problematizing race in this case.” (Is Chris Hayes writing for Maddow?) In the process, Maddow pretended that she barely understands Brown’s very puzzling charge—and Harris-Perry offered an astonishing statement about who should be upset by the conduct Brown is alleging.
Black people can complain about this! White folk, not so much!
The professor didn’t know, or chose not to say, that various Native Americans already have complained, rightly or wrongly, about Warren’s claims. (Parker and Barbaro had the story at the convention! Just click here.) But good grief! Warren may be perfectly innocent of any bad faith or bad conduct. But if someone did claim Native American heritage in bad faith as a way to get ahead, does Harris-Perry really mean what she said? That black people could criticize such an act, but white people couldn’t?
We’re so old that we can remember when the low-IQ Stalinist-leaners did lots of harm to progressive interests. People like that went away for a time. We'll guess they’re prepared to come back.
Maddow’s astonishment and David Gregory: This is part of what Maddow said last Monday:
MADDOW (9/24/12): As weird as it is to see a Senate candidate having to do a political ad explaining what their ethnic background is, how much weirder is it that that’s because all of the attacks on her in this campaign are about her race? I don’t understand why this isn`t a national scandal.Last week, Maddow said she was astonished, that this should be a national scandal. Tonight, will she complain that David Gregory was attacking or challenging Warren on the basis of race?
Scott Brown’s campaign against Elizabeth Warren is on the basis of her race. I find it to be astonishing that it’s not more upsetting to more people.
Will she voice her astonishment tonight? Maddow’s a savvy, self-dealing player. Our advice:
Don’t be holding your breath.