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Elizabeth Warren and the Tragedy of Modern Liberalism

As utterly obnoxious–and insulting to voters–as the White House’s “war on women” was, there were moments when I actually felt a pang of sympathy for the loyal foot soldiers dispatched to pillage the news cycle. Carrying the banner of this base anti-intellectualism required a certain shamelessness that was off-putting, but at times strangely pitiful. One such example came after Rush Limbaugh insulted the 30-year-old liberal activist Sandra Fluke, and in response Neera Tanden, once an adviser to both Clintons and to President Obama and now president of the Center for American Progress, was reduced to tweeting this:

Outraged Rush is attacking all women thru Sandra Fluke? Pl sign CAP’s petition: http://cap.af/xNDJwc – I #standwithsandra & hope you will 2

That the Obama White House has taken men and women of repute and transformed them into Axelrodian snark artists long preceded Tanden’s tweet. But it caught my attention because it seemed to be the reductio ad absurdum of modern liberalism. Until, that is, Elizabeth Warren bailed her out.

Warren, the Democratic Senate candidate challenging Scott Brown in Massachusetts, was the subject of a rather bizarre controversy this week when it was revealed she claimed Native American heritage as her career in academia proceeded, only to drop the dubious claim once she reached the pinnacle of her academic career track: Harvard Law faculty. She has not handled the controversy well, to say the least. And the wreckage of her campaign’s attempts at spinning this make you want to look away.

But don’t. Because Warren is playing an important role in our political discourse: she is the ghost of liberalism future. Warren’s alleged use of affirmative action, if true, would have to be the most egregious abuse of the system at the expense of minorities we’ve seen yet. Elizabeth Warren is, as a white woman, statistically speaking very much a member of this country’s majority. The only category in which she is a true minority is wealth: Elizabeth Warren is very, very rich.

But Warren was not done making a mockery of a system she seems to have exploited, and in so doing risked discrediting. To call her on these shenanigans, she explained, is sexist. Hot Air has caught her repeating this claim, making it a pillar of her defense. First, her campaign spokeswoman said this: “Once again, the qualifications and ability of a woman are being called into question by Scott Brown who did the same thing with the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan. It’s outrageous.”

Then Warren waded into it herself, saying of Brown: “What does he think it takes for a woman to be qualified?”

The sad part about all this is that Warren is clearly intelligent and dedicated to her (redistributionist) cause. Back in August, Christopher Caldwell wrote a piece on her in the Weekly Standard in which he praised her earlier writing as “brilliant and counterintuitive work.” Though many on the right object to Warren’s politics, no one thought she was ill-equipped intellectually for the important debate on economic policy now sweeping the public sphere.

Yet in the age of Obama, this is how campaigns are run. Warren may have interesting things to say, but she, too, has become something of a liberal cliché. Despite her obvious smarts, she has reflexively fallen back on charges of sexism, even when they are so ridiculous as to make you cringe. If Warren, a rich, white, Harvard professor, is a victim, everyone is.

Why does this matter? Because it reveals that the left thinks affirmative action is a joke, another cudgel with which to attack political opponents at the expense of minorities who might, thanks to liberalism’s insistence on keeping students in failed school districts, actually put the policy to some good use. And because if Elizabeth Warren is unable to advance coherent liberal policy arguments, then there may be none to advance.