"dog whistles"

wh5mith wh5mith at BELLSOUTH.NET
Thu Apr 3 20:03:37 UTC 2014

I had to laugh a the references to Obama's golf as evidence of laziness.  I distinctly remember the same thing about Eisenhower!

A brilliant casuist disproved every false generalization.  He is justly known lately.  Moreover, no pompous quibbler really said that useful verities were xenophobic yet zealous.

 From: victor steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Thursday, April 3, 2014 3:50 PM
Subject: Re: "dog whistles"

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Poster:       victor steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
Subject:      Re: "dog whistles"

I'm a bit ambivalent on these issues. I see "dog whistle" as clearly
distinct from euphemism or code. The latter do fall under obliquities, as
AZ points out. I may be wrong in my observations, but I'll say what I have
to say. (Please forgive the typos -- can't help it when composing over a

The lines do get blurred. Are conservatives' attacks on Obama over alleged
teleprompter overuse, golf, supposedly excessive vacationing merely oblique
references to make Obama look lazy, or is this a dog whistle to the
Southern image of blacks as lazy?

FWIW, I see the same reference in Paul Ryan's comment, so I disagree with
Barbara Lee's explanation of it as "code for black". I do see it as a dog
whistle, especially in conjunction with the citation of Murray. It may be
merely a code for black, but it's a dog whistle to those who think that
blacks are inherently lazy.

So what, if anything, is the difference between these two substitutions?
The statements against Obama are already in the open, the criticism --
rightly or wrongly -- is widely accepted on the right, and there is little
reason to resort to deeper coded messages. Most people using these memes
likely aren't even aware of the underlying stereotype. (But few observers
doubt that this is how these memes were  formed.)

Ryan's case is different because the reference is general and isolated.
Ryan has further political ambitions and wants and needs the "blacks are
lazy" crowd to see him as one of their own. So he's not merely coding the
message -- indeed the code value as "black" is fairly trivial -- but is
effectively giving a shoutout to a constituent faction.

More codes that have been made popular over the last 8 years: San Francisco
values and Chicago politics. Neither of these is a dog whistle because it
has no distinct target audience that will hear it differently from everyone
else. But I do agree that a lot of references to these have identified them
as dog whistles (acceptance of homosexuality and mafia history,
respectively, not merely corruption).

The last item is something that I have been pushing as dog whistle, but had
little agreement from others. If you recall George Allen's Macaca speech,
there was another oblique reference that escaped the media attention. He
had pointed out that his opponent was hobnobbing with the "Hollywood

There are people who can get away with using the "elite" reference, and
some who cannot. One can understand someone like Cesar Chavez points to
"moneyed elites", but when Pat Buchanan rails against "banking elite",
"media elite", "intellectual elite", "Hollywood elite", it's quite another

Buchanan may not have originated the term, but he made this a dog whistle
artform. If you follow his career, there was a distinct switch from using
blatant antisemitic language to the more oblique "elites". The goal was to
avoid laguage unpalatable to the center while maintaining the message of
connection to the fringes -- the very essence of a dog whistle.

This issue becomes more obvious when an "elites" reference fails miserably
-- e.g., when Mitt Romney referred to Barack Obama as "Harvard elite"
(Romney spent a considerable part of his life at Harvard graduate schools
and holds two degrees). And the media has occasionally pointed out to
incongruity of "elites" references from millionaires and corporate CEOs.
This includes Allen -- a former Senator and governor. So when someone like
Allen refers to elites, you can bet the house that he's doing it in the
same way as Buchanan (particularly when he does it in rural Southwest
Virginia that is known for their collective racism and antisemitism).

In any case, I guess, my view is that the distinction between these
categories, while blurred by the more inept political and media figures,
still exists.


On Apr 3, 2014 1:51 AM, "Geoffrey Nunberg" <nunberg at ischool.berkeley.edu>
> I'm doing a Fresh Air piece on dog-whistle language, or more generally on
political language coded for race -- "states rights," "forced busing,"
"food stamp president," "hard-working Americans,'" etc. The standard
understanding of the phenomenon is as  language that sends a signal to one
part of the electorate which isn't audible to anyone else--Safire gave the
example of George W. Bush's discreet high-fives to Christian conservatives.
But it's my sense the term is used now for any oblique language
(particularly as regards race), whether or not the general audience can
pick up the meaning, so long as the speaker can plausibly--or often, not so
plausibly)--deny that interpretation (cancel the implicature?)
> So Krugman called Paul Ryan's reference to "inner city culture" a dog
whistle, and Barbara Lee said "when Mr. Ryan says 'inner city,' when he
says, 'culture,' these are simply code words for what he really means:
'black.'" But that's sort of like saying that "Park Avenue" is a code word
for "rich." You don't need a Captain Midnight secret decoder ring to get it.
> A lot of people call these items euphemisms:
> > These days, phrases like "voter suppression" are used by Democrats the
same way Republicans in favor of photo ID laws use "voter fraud" as
really trying to say.
> >
> > As long as dog whistle demagogues stick to racial euphemisms,
colorblindness de- fends them against every charge of racial pandering.
(This from Ian Haney Lopez recent Dog-Whistle Politics, a very good survey
of the phenomenon).

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