Elizabeth Warren Is Not a Dumb Blonde

It’s hard to figure who looks worse in this story, Elizabeth Warren or Harvard Law School’s affirmative action policies.

Warren is the former Harvard law professor whom President Barack Obama pegged to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Now she is running as a Democratic challenger to Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.

Last month, the Boston Herald reported that in 1996, Harvard Law School touted the blond, blue-eyed Warren as proof that it hired “minority women.” Then spokesman Mike Chmura wrote in The Harvard Crimson, “Elizabeth Warren is a Native American.” In a 1997 Fordham University law review article, Chmura called Warren Harvard’s “first woman of color.”

Who knew Warren is a Native American?

Warren reacted by telling reporters that she didn’t even know Harvard was touting her as a minority until she read about it in the Herald. That’s not credible; Warren listed herself as a minority in The Association of American Law Schools’ directory from 1986 to 1995.

Is she a Native American? Warren belongs to no tribe. The New England Historic Genealogical Society says it has no proof of Warren’s Native American heritage. Warren says that according to “family lore,” she is part Cherokee. Make that one-32nd Cherokee, thanks to her great-great-great-grandmother.

There’s reason to believe Warren thought she is part Cherokee. She contributed recipes in 1984 to the cookbook “Pow Wow Chow.” Even that bit of corroboration, however, turns out to be problematic. The New York Times reported that some of those recipes “appear nearly identical to recipes by Pierre Franey, a chef and New York Times food writer, and hardly seem Indian (one is for ‘Crab with Tomato Mayonnaise Dressing’). The Warren campaign has declined to comment on the recipes.”

Why would a blue-eyed blonde who looks very white and who belongs to no tribe (who can only claim a great-great-great-grandmother Cherokee ancestor) nonetheless designate herself as a Native American? Warren bristles at any suggestion that she did so to enhance her employment prospects. She says she did so to “meet more people who had grown up” as she “had grown up.”

Why did she stop designating herself as a Native American after she won tenure at Harvard? She had wanted to meet people like her, she told the Herald. But: “Nothing like that ever happened. That was clearly not the use for it, and so I stopped checking it off.”

Warren’s campaign now is working overtime to pooh-pooh any notion that she was hired for any reason other than that she was a great law professor. I believe that.

I also believe that Warren was too smart not to know that she is 32 times more white than she is a Native American. She’s too smart not to know that the designation could help her career while taking pressure off Harvard Law School to hire a real minority. But she was not so liberal that she cared.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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