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They can (mostly) hear those whistles blowing. (Mostly.)

[ 29 ] January 31, 2012 |

Juan Williams wrote a column on conservative dog-whistles in which he points out the obvious:

The language of GOP racial politics is heavy on euphemisms that allow the speaker to deny any responsibility for the racial content of his message. The code words in this game are “entitlement society” — as used by Mitt Romney—and “poor work ethic” and “food stamp president”—as used by Newt Gingrich. References to a lack of respect for the “Founding Fathers” and the “Constitution” also make certain ears perk up by demonizing anyone supposedly threatening core “old-fashioned American values.”

Conservatives are pouncing on the idea that “Founding Fathers” could be what Williams calls a “racial code word,” and admittedly, it’s his weakest example. (Though you need not be a Constitutional scholar to understand that everyone who signed that document was not only white but that many of them owned slaves.) The dog-whistle status of the public fellation of  source texts is questionable, but Gingrich’s refrain about Obama being a “food stamp President” certainly isn’t. Because not only is it a dog-whistle, it’s a dog-whistle whose etiology is a matter of public record.

According to a source of unquestionable integrity, on January 5, 2012 Newt Gingrich told an audience in Plymouth, N.H. that if he were invited to speak at the NAACP’s annual convention, he would accept and “talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” Far from being an idiopathic charge arising from some haze of liberal thought, the connection between blacks and food stamps is present right there in the very words Gingrich said:

NAACP + Food Stamps = Dog-Whistle

This isn’t that complicated: Gingrich created a rhetorical situation in which any invocation of food stamps would signal to his intended audience that he was talking about black people. The fact that he dispels this notion is belied by the undercurrent of thought that gave rise to the equation in the first place. If he didn’t associate black people with food stamps, mentioning the NAACP wouldn’t have triggered a canned statement about food stamps.

Conservatives may wish this weren’t the case—that is, they may want to talk about the rise in food stamp consumption under the Obama administration—but Gingrich has made it impossible for them to do so without invoking the racist undertones of his statement.


Comments (29)

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  1. actor212 says:

    The twin barrel irony: that use of food stamps is up under Obama, primarily because of long term unemployment created when Bush was asleep at the wheel, and that most of that rise is attributable to poor whites, is something that ought to be discussed, because it deflates the link between food stamps and being black.

  2. mark f says:

    According to a source of unquestionable integrity,

    Note too that, when asked about this statement by Juan Williams, Newt not only did not deny having said it, nor equivocate on its context or meaning, but vehemently restated it and received wild applause.

  3. nolo says:

    NAACP + Food stamps = air horn. Fixed that for you.

  4. mark f says:

    Juan Williams is about to learn what it would be like if the Globetrotters were based in Philadelphia so that the fans actually hated the Generals.

    Poor guy. It paid so well being one of the Good Ones. (Liberals, I mean!)

  5. Eli Rabett says:

    Founding slave holders. Fixed that too.

  6. rea says:

    For an example of how “founding fathers’ and “constitution” can be dog whistles, see the wingnut reaction to Thurgood Marshall in 1987, calling the constitution as originally written, “defective.” Well, of course it was defective; it allowed slavery. The same tired crap was trotted out in 2010 when Marshall’s clerk Elena Kagan was nominated for the Court, and criticized for Marshall’s “defective constitution” statement back in ’87.

  7. Honorable Bob says:

    Nobody cares other than the uber-left who lives their whole lives looking through the fish-eye lens of perceived ‘racism’, even when there is none.

    If you think most voters are on board with your false charges of racism because someone criticizes the president’s policies…’re sadly mistaken.

    • SEK says:

      Nobody cares other than the uber-left who lives their whole lives looking through the fish-eye lens of perceived ‘racism’, even when there is none.

      Didn’t say there was. Pointed out, in detail, exactly what Gingrich did. If you think what he did makes him a racist, that’s on you, not me.

      • Honorable Bob says:

        They can (mostly) hear those whistles blowing. (Mostly.)


        So you didn’t write this?

        Who do you think “hears” racism? The conservatives? Really?

        There is a ton of black columnists and pundits that are telling blacks they should vote for Obama’s re-election simply because he is black.

        Imagine a white pundit saying that.

        Are you enjoying the hypocritical double standard yet?

        • SEK says:

          So you didn’t write this?

          Obviously I wrote that. That’s my name right there below it. But you’re missing the point: I noted, in detail that you ignore, that Newt’s the one who linked blacks to food stamps in the public mind, so that’s not a generalized dog-whistle, it’s one Newt created and continues to blow. If you think that sentiment’s racist — I do, for the record — then Newt’s blowing a racist dog-whistle. But even if you don’t, you can’t deny the fact that Newt made a dog-whistle that links blacks to food stamps. What you think that is, if not racist, is up to you. (Though you’d be hard-pressed to define it as something other than racist, but I’m open to suggestions.)

          Who do you think “hears” racism? The conservatives? Really?

          Quick, very basic question about rhetoric: rhetoric always involves an author, a message, and an intended audience, so the question about dog-whistles concerns the relationship between message and intended audience. Who is Newt’s intended audience, and how did he, as an author, convey his message to that audience? Do you really believe his intended audience consists of liberals and leftists?

          Obviously, it doesn’t. Which means we must, perforce, figure out why he uses this dog-whistle with his intended audience, i.e. Republican primary voters.

          But feel free to draw what will no doubt be an irrelevant and specious conclusion.

          • Malaclypse says:

            “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

            The good rabbi understood how to handle trolls back in his day.

            • SEK says:

              As part-owner of this blog, it’s my right to join you in the sometimes-joy that is troll-stomping. Where’s it written that you commenters get to have all the fun?

              • Malaclypse says:

                If I wanted to get all meta, I would point out the rhetorical purpose of quoting the Bible in dealing with trolls. There was a certain person who, I believe, taught at a community college somewhere out in California, who got rather upset (which was so very out of character for this very very emotionally stable person) whenever I did that.

          • Honorable Bob says:

            Who is Newt’s intended audience, and how did he, as an author, convey his message to that audience? Do you really believe his intended audience consists of liberals and leftists?

            Do you assume that the largest ideological group (conservatives) who outnumber liberals about two to one according to Gallup are all racists?

            To make your arguement work, you must first embrace your bigotry of conservatives and paint them all with the same broad brush you rail against when talking about racism.

        • Uncle Kvetch says:

          There is a ton of black columnists and pundits that are telling blacks they should vote for Obama’s re-election simply because he is black.

          This is a lie.

          • Honorable Bob says:

            This is a lie.

            Not so much…
            Even as Obama and his campaign play down the suggestion that support among African Americans is flagging, a cadre of powerful allies is snapping back at critics in the black community and making explicit appeals for racial loyalty.

            “Let’s not even deal with the facts right now. Let’s deal with just our blackness and pride — and loyalty,” Joyner wrote on his blog. “We have the chance to re-elect the first African-American president, and that’s what we ought to be doing. And I’m not afraid or ashamed to say that as black people, we should do it because he’s a black man.”….But the focus on sticking together has prompted criticism from some who call it an overly simplistic view that shuts off dialogue about Obama’s achievements and his failures.

            “It truncates vibrant conversation in the black community,” said Eddie Glaude Jr., a professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University. “What I hear them saying is, ‘Black folk need to get in lock step because we don’t want Republicans to take the White House.’ There is a kind of disciplining of the black polity that doesn’t lend itself to a vibrant and detailed consideration about political issues.”

            The calls for racial solidarity have not come from the White House, and Obama has been careful to speak in broad terms, even when talking about how his policies have helped African Americans. At the same time, his campaign has welcomed the support of black media figures. Those “validators” make clear that they back the president’s policies, and a White House aide noted that their support is deeper than the color of Obama’s skin. “You don’t see them supporting Herman Cain or Alan Keyes,” the aide said….

            Sharpton said he learned an important lesson about supporting black politicians in the early 1990s, when David Dinkins, who was New York’s first black mayor, was running for reelection. Sharpton criticized Dinkins’s “deliberative” style and thought his policies were not progressive enough. Dinkins was hurt by the diminished enthusiasm and turnout among black voters.

            “We beat up on him. He went down and we ended up with eight years of Rudy Giuliani,” said Sharpton, who has been among Obama’s most aggressive supporters. “I said I’ll never make that mistake again.”

  8. chris says:

    Romney took it up to 11 in his victory speech: Obama wants to take your money and give it to “his friends”. Is there even the slightest bit of doubt about what that means?

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