Comment from Left Field: Two Dog Whistles (UPDATE)

Comment from Left Field

Two Dog Whistles (UPDATE)

I say all of this because through the course of the day I let two potentially racial dog whistles blow right past me and I didn’t even notice.  From someone who claims to be hyper-sensitive to this kind of thing, I was a little ashamed.

The first is that of “socialism”.  If you’re going, “huh?” right now, don’t fret, I was also not too terribly long ago.  There’s no denying the fact that the latest and greatest tactic from the McCain campaign has to paint Obama as a socialist, or that he is prescribing socialism for this country, or that if he is elected we will ultimately become a socialist country.

I’ve never really thought much about this whole tactic in racial terms.  This seemed to me to be the usage of two different mechanisms at once; neither of which having much to do directly with race.  On one hand, it drudges up the old cold war anxieties that continue to plague this nation on all things socialist and communist.  As I’ve discussed with at least one old friend in the past (who will for now remain nameless), despite the belief outside of this country that socialism in some form or another is acceptable, inside this country due to lingering cold war apprehensions, generations will come and go before any kind of meaningful socialism movement could take root here in earnest (caveats: I am myself a capitalist, and there is the possibility that the current economic crisis could hasten socialisms progress towards acceptability in this country).

But as I would come to find out, the label, “socialist” actually does have a more direct racial implication.

J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972, used the term liberally to describe African Americans who spent their lives fighting for equality.

Those freedom fighters included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the Civil Rights Movement; W.E.B. Du Bois, who in 1909 helped found the NAACP which is still the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization; Paul Robeson, a famous singer, actor and political activist who in the 1930s became involved in national and international movements for better labor relations, peace and racial justice; and A. Philip Randolph, who founded and was the longtime head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a leading advocate for civil rights for African Americans.

Now this is direct historical context that takes my second approach to the socialist label, the indirect racial relation to otherize Obama, and sort of flips the concept on its head.  It’s been done directly in the past specifically in a racial context.

Still, I am initially unwilling to go as far as the author of the post excerpted above in condemning the usage of the label as a definitive dog whistle on the merits of his historical argument alone.  After all, if I didn’t know that socialism could be a racial dog whistle until today, then there are going to be plenty of people out there that still don’t know.

But there is a crack in this wall of logic that begins with one aspect of the Republican ticket, namely that while I’m not old enough to have personally experienced this specific dog whistle, McCain is.  I’m still not completely sold at this point in the argument, but there is a far greater probability for McCain to understand the full context than there is for me.

What makes this a credible candidate as an honest to goodness racial dog whistle is that it ends up dovetailing with another term that has been used an awful lot on the trail, “welfare.”

Now, I really am ashamed at not having my racist alarm going off once the McCain camp started dialing up the welfare rhetoric specifically because I know that welfare is a racial dog whistle.  It’s used stereotypically, for instance in the term “Welfare Queen,” just as that stereotype can be used to generate racial tension among white people who feel that these so-called welfare queens are leaches on hard working taxpayers.

The message that this sends to voters for whom race will play a larger factor is also pretty easy to pick up on: You think black people are getting a free ride now?  Just wait until they elect a black president.

But to see how these two dog whistles work in concert, I’m going to turn things over to Rachel Maddow who shows how “socialist” and “welfare” dovetail with a possible attempt to manually instigate a Bradley Effect.

(ed note: I’m having a difficult time getting the player to run properly, so please go watch the video here)


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