Breaking the Dog Whistle

I like Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo, and think he has done an excellent job covering (and in many cases uncovering) the issues arising over the 2008 election.

I don’t always agree with him, but I think he has a good grasp of the difference between reporting hard news and editorializing, and he rarely mixes the two.

I also appreciate that he has established a real news organization that uses its own sources, and is a good model for citizen journalism.

But his latest posts on the negative cast of the McCain/Palin campaign have been breathtaking.

When he does editorialize about the dog-whistle smearing that has been done by McCain and Palin, his fury and contempt is clear, and because he’s not usually a ranter, that fury is more compelling in the contrast.

His latest post, McCainism is a doozy:

For my own part, obviously, I hope Barack Obama can pull off a victory on Tuesday. But more than that, I hope the result of the election can be a rebuke, a closing of the book on McCainism and the moral filth it has come to represent. I’m under no illusion that negative or even nasty campaigning will come to an end in the USA. I don’t think that’s realistic or even necessarily desirable. Hard-fought and brass-knuckle politics is something built into the fiber of American politics. It’s part and parcel of the intensity of belief and passion that many of us have for the issues at stake in our elections.

But McCain’s campaign has devolved into something altogether different … what with its increasingly open appeals to racial conflict and aggressive invocations of blood hatred of Arabs and Muslims. As The New Republic phrases it, McCain’s “subtle incitements of racial warfare and underhanded implications of foreign nativity.” Over the months we’ve become desensitized to the moral depravity of McCain’s campaign.

I’ve never read such strong language from Josh, even during the US Attorney’s scandal or over Bush.  Perhaps he had some initial grudging respect for McCain, which makes the “moral filth” of his campaign even more infuriating.

Because this has been the modus operandi of the Republican Party for decades.  Not real hardball politics, but filth.  Divisiveness.  Slander.

And it has worked, it has worked all too often.

I don’t think the American people have all of sudden become better, more moral, wiser, more intelligent.

I think the American people have been hit in the pocketbook, are scared of losing their jobs and their homes and somehow this terrified self-interest has improved their hearing skills a wee bit so that they will listen to Obama with more focus than usual.

Don’t mean to sound cynical, and I am not really cynical.  I don’t care about the motivation so much as long as folks really do listen to Obama and vote for their real self interest rather than out of fear.

I think Josh has done some of the best work deconstructing these smears and dog-whistles.  As I’ve written previously, it’s not so easy to slip messages under the radar any longer with so many electronic watchdogs in the blogosphere and now in the media (who are also looking for the money and will now promote more liberal reporters such as Rachel Maddow, aware of the way the wind is blowing).

I hope Josh is right.  I hope Obama wins and the dog whistle is broken, smashed into so many pieces it can never be repaired.


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  1. … if you actually do need a dog whistle to call your dogs, then I except those from hopes of breakage.

  2. for me has not been Obama himself but the way dog whistle politics is being exposed and openly critiqued even some folks on CNN have gotten in on the act like what’s her name Campbell Brown she isn’t exactly radical.

    The MSM is a bit late the party on it because they have had their finger to the wind for so long but nice to see it being confronted.

  3. today from Giordano at The Field about how he sees some folks responding to “the moral filth.”

    That College Republicans staffer that utilized her nail file to scrape a backwards B onto her pumpkin face in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania television market and blamed it on a fictional African-American Obama supporter has, in The Field’s analysis, definitively closed the door on any chances McCain thought he had in Pennsylvania.

    Among so many of the Appalachian voters there that were tempted to vote against their own economic interests and let the race card get the better of them, she made them cringe in disgust, upstaging even the Jack Murtha comedy hour. It was a huge local TV news story – a police story and a political story rolled into one, complete with a mental health sideshow – for days on end, in the very region where McCain had based his comeback hopes. The Pittsburgh Cutter story is probably second to the “real vs. fake Virginia” meme in terms of a single story’s impact on an important swing state. And so now all the money and candidate time and race-card messaging that McCain-Palin have dumped into Pennsylvania is now, in Wasilla-speak, “for naught.”

  4. to their credit the American people have been horrified at what they have supported for the last decade. They have through McCain’s campaign been exposed to the pared down bones of what the philosophy they bought under God and with sugar plums included . No brass ring for the greedy no victory for the vengeful. It collapsed. On every level just like you knew it would. The dog whistle is for dogs and we may be pack animal but were not dogs. Alpha can be not just killing and vicious.    

    • Devon on November 3, 2008 at 03:58

    Long time no, er, read!  I remember you well from the early days over there – nice to find you again.

    I found you, in fact, because there someone followed from your post here to my site, http://www.StopDogWhistleRacis… which I expect to work on for approximately 45 more hours.  We’ve been monitoring how race figures into the electoral and policy debates of the season.

    In response to undercovercalico, let me say that I think the MSM has done a much better job this time around than in the past.  Not a great job, but it’s worth remembering that nobody pointed out the racial implications of the Willie Horton line of attack until late August or early September.  This time out, David Gergen condemned McCain’s “The One” ad immediately, and there has been discussion of the dog whistle implications of a huge number of things from across the media spectrum.  Not always good discussion, but in some ways, just raising the thought that coded racist messages exist is enough to sap their power.  But that’s a long story.

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