Jeffrey Goldberg, writing his Blomberg View column, apparently thinks that may be the case. He predicts big things from the dog whistlers in the 2012 election season:
Here are some things you could learn about black Americans from the recent statements and insinuations of Republican presidential candidates, Republican congressmen and Republican-friendly radio personalities:I'm trying to keep an open mind, here.
Black people have lost the desire to perform a day’s work. Black people rely on food stamps provided to them by white taxpayers. Black people, including Barack and Michelle Obama, believe that the U.S. owes them something because they are black. Black children should work as janitors in their high schools as a way to keep them from becoming pimps. And the pathologies afflicting black Americans are caused partly by the Democratic Party, which has created in them a dependency on government not dissimilar to the forced dependency of slaves on their owners.
Supposedly a Republican/Republican-friendly said/insinuated black people have lost the desire to perform a day's work. Goldberg provides a link, but it provides no apparent support for his claim. Rather, it deals with the Food Stamp program in response to Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's comments in response to a question from Fox News contributor Juan Williams. Gingrich, in fact, explicitly denied that the comments that stimulated Williams' question were racist in nature, and Gingrich did not declare that any race had lost its desire to perform a day's work.
Supposedly a Republican/Republican-friendly said/insinuated black people rely on food stamps provide to them by white taxpayers. Goldberg again provides a link, which tells the same type of story as the previous one. Race isn't mentioned, but Goldberg is apparently able to detect a reference to race, at least to the point of definitively claiming the Republican candidates are teaching us that "Black people rely on food stamps provided to them by white taxpayers." Goldberg apparently figured all that out when candidate Rick Santorum said "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."
Supposedly a Republican/Republican-friendly said/insinuated the Obamas feel as though they are owed something because they are black. That one's close to being true, since radio personality Rush Limbaugh stated he thinks the Obamas feel owed something because of the way their ancestors were treated. I think we're supposed to set aside the fact that ill treatment of ancestors is not a racial reason for expecting some payback. A white ancestor, after all, is perfectly capable of receiving ill treatment. And the racial angle falters as Limbaugh continues:
I think if you look at the way the Obamas live, with Michelle and her separate vacations and not being concerned about how much it costs to take separate airplanes -- there's no question in my mind that they view this as -- whatever else they view it as, as an opportunity to live high on the hog without having it cost them a dime. And they justify it by thinking, "Well, we deserve this, or we're owed this because of what's been done to us and our ancestors all these" -- who knows? I think that's -- I think that's part of it.
I also think that it is why the Republican establishment wants back -- and everybody in Washington wants to be in charge of the money. Everybody wants to run the committee chairmans-- the committee and be the chairman. Everybody wants to be in charge of the budget. Everybody wants to have power over it. Do not discount, ever, the money.
If Limbaugh blunts his racism at all with the intimation that the Republican establishment is black, Goldberg takes no notice.
We get the picture. It is the plausible deniability of the racial angle that makes the dog whistle a dog whistle. Other than decoding specialists like Goldberg and every liberal blogger in the whole wide world, it's just a special targeted sub-population (of Republicans) that receives the racial message.
Dog-whistling -- the use of coded, ambiguous language to appeal to the prejudices of certain subsets of voters -- is one of the darkest political arts.Just to be clear, Goldberg is not intimating that blacks ("darkest political arts") disproportionately engage in the use of racist dog-whistle techniques. Goldberg is not a Republican, so we can't draw any conclusion like that. He's just saying that using that type of ambiguous language is evil.
And Goldberg helpfully introduces us to an expert at understanding and combating the dark art of racial dog-whistle politics:
(Randall) Kennedy, who studies the role of race in national elections, told me last week of a rule he uses to measure whether a candidate’s appeal to prejudice will succeed: If it takes more than two sentences for a critic to explain why a dog-whistle is a dog-whistle, the whistler wins.Thank goodness for run-on sentences.
Okay, seriously. Kennedy is an academic serving as a law professor at Harvard. But the appeal to authority isn't good enough. What is the evidence for the existence of a working racist dog whistle? And why is Jeffrey Goldberg better at hearing them than I am? Am I not Republican enough? Is Goldberg a closet Republican?
I needed an academic willing to talk in terms of evidence. Kennedy wasn't the guy, so I did some searching and came up with another name: Tali Mendelberg.
Mendelberg's "The Race Card" was published in 2001. It supposedly contains experimental evidence of the effects of dog whistle politics. But what I found most intriguing while I read the first chapter was the support the work provides for my counter-theory.
Mendelberg's first example comes from the use of Willie Horton to attack the candidacy of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
When an implicit appeal is rendered explicit—when other elites bring the racial meaning of the appeal to voters’ attention—it appears to violate the norm of racial equality.Mendelberg suggests the violation of "the norm of racial equality" negates the effect of the dog-whistle ad, using as evidence an increase in Dukakis' poll numbers after elites denounced the ad on racial grounds. But what stops her from drawing the inference that denouncing the ad counted as a net gain for Dukakis? We apparently have two dynamics in play rather than just one. What if we had a non-racist alleged dog-whistle ad denounced as racist? And what if it takes fewer than two sentences to explain the alleged racism?
That's the beauty of the counter strategy. Making racist dog whistles by definition deniable removes from those who cry "racism!" any real responsibility for making their case that a statement constitutes a racial appeal.
Perhaps Jeffrey Goldberg is researching the issue for us.