Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Democrats and Dog Whistles

Ever since the Republicans adopted a Southern Strategy to gain political momentum after the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans have become highly attuned to racist "dog whistles" in politics. And so for example, when Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for president in Philadelphia, Mississippi (where 3 civil rights workers were murdered in 1964) and focused his speech on defending "states rights," he sent a message that was loud and clear to both Southern racists and African Americans without ever having to be explicit.

As we fast forward to 2008 and the election of this country's first African American president, the racism wasn't so hidden when a group of tea partiers rose up to challenge his place of birth. But in addition to the more blatant form, there were plenty of dog whistles too. Here's a reader at TPM explaining what s/he saw in 2011 when Speaker Boehner had some issues with scheduling a joint address to Congress by President Obama over the jobs crisis.
When Boehner does something like this (that no previous Speaker has done to any previous President), when he refuses to return the President's phone call during the debt ceiling crisis, when he skips state dinners, when he refuses to definitely say that he believes the President was born in the US or is a Christian, or when Boehner coddles a member of his caucus who shout "you lie" during a Presidential address, etc one certain thing happens - black Americans notice it.

African-Americans are especially sensitive to the unprecedented disrespect that white Republicans have afforded to the first black President. Every time it happens, it ripples across black radio, black newspapers, black websites, and in conversations in black communities. It helps cement the ties that Obama has with the black community, and helps overcome whatever doubts and disappoints some may have. It reminds people who have experienced covert racism in their own lives that the President is experiencing the same kind of dehumanizing disrespect.
But it hasn't just been the Republicans. During the 2008 Democratic primary, African Americans heard dog whistles from the Clinton campaign on a few occasions - like when Bill Clinton dismissed Obama's win in South Carolina and when Geraldine Ferraro suggested that Obama wouldn't be winning if he was a white man. David Love is right to suggest that Hillary Clinton can't necessarily count on the kind of enthusiasm President Obama garnered from black voters as a result.

Any Democratic candidate for president in 2016 who wants to maintain the Obama coalition will have to avoid sending out these kinds of dog whistles. Even African Americans who have occasionally disagreed with President Obama will be tuned in to any disrespect shown to our 44th president and the ripple effect the TPM reader described above will be triggered. That doesn't mean that no one is allowed to disagree with President Obama. But it does mean that its important to do so respectfully.

Obviously this is not something previous presidential candidates have had to pay attention to because we've never had an African American president before. But I'll remind you once again that David Simon nailed it.
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions.
That kind of leadership starts with being able to recognize and avoid the dog whistles of racism.


  1. This is the lesson of the gun shooting "I am not Barack Obama" Kentucky lady

  2. Amen, Nancy!

    And, Sheriff, as you point out re: Ms. Grimes, Ms. Wasserman-Shultz has been rather disappointing re: these dog whistles which, in some cases, are flat out air horns. You have pretty much the best economic and one of the most important social (health insurance is, now, a RIGHT) turnarounds in recent American history but you caaaan't quite loudly and proudly proclaim it because.....

    And, Nancy, as you point out, Mr. and Mrs. Clinton will have some s'plainin' to do in these days to come. If they think they aren't gonna get grilled about him re: S.C. or HER re: Penn., they are SADly mistaken.

    You aren't flat out saying this, Nancy, but you couldn't be more correct. If the Dems want to win, they really HAVE to have a high percentage of the black vote to do it. And, they can get the brown vote as well. Therein...

    Who shall we yet see that displays both leadership and COURAGE???

    1. I'm really glad to hear from you on this one. I've asked for feedback on it from my friends on twitter. I think its an important message to get out there...soon!

  3. Democrats<<<Heal Thyself..the GOP are not the only ones who use dog whistles...after the 2014 elections there were numerous essays suggesting that the DEM party should try to appeal to white voters....

    why hasn't the the DEM party stood up against voter suppression laws which impact mostly DEM voters...police violence etc...They use us when they need us and throw us away when they don't...this is not a new thing...had a bit of a hiatus with the 2008/2012 elections...

    but they are attempting to do a reset Pre-Obama...but ...they cannot not win without the Coalition....without blk voters...

    we hear the whistles whether they come DEMs or the GOP..

  4. Based on some of the chatter I'm seeing from Dem strategists they are still chasing the "white working class voter" like some elusive unicorn. Which shows me that they have not learned a single thing from last year's bloodbath. I really don't think it's a coincidence that the one Senate candidate that proudly stood side-by-side with President Obama was the only one who emerged victorious in his election (Gary Peters, Michigan).

    Obviously I can't speak for all Black people but when I see Dems undercutting President Obama at every turn, I take it very personally. And as a result my attitude becomes if you can't support my President, then why on Earth should I support you?

    The first candidate that is not only unwavering in publicly touting the President's record, but promises to build upon that legacy will win the support of the Obama coalition, and in turn win the White House in 2016. There is no other way, period. Hopefully some of these potential candidates and their people wise up and realize it before it's too late.

    1. I think that they believe that they can do it without us!...that it was just a fluke that the President beat the BIG money...not once but twice with 51% of the vote...

    2. Not a fluke....'luck'! /eyeroll/ 'There's none so blind as s/he who will not see'.

      And Ms Kitty, I take it very personally too. *My* attitude is if you cannot support a productive, intelligent majority-elected DEMOCRATIC president who is delivering for the nation, but who happens to be Black, why would you want my 'black' vote?

  5. They truly are hilarious. And, if the balance of this country weren't at stake, I'd be ok with them learning, THE HARD WAY, that you don't get the Obama coalition, without RESPECTING AND SUPPORTING WHAT PRESIDENT OBAMA HAS ACCOMPLISHED.

    HE showed the way to 270 without needing one phucking Southern State.

    HE showed the way to 270 without needing to beg the White working class to vote in their own self-interest.

    And, it's not just insulting the President.

    Don't know if you have been looking at the Chicago Mayoral Race. Rahm's opponent is a Mexican.

    Our Senator, Mark Kirk, said that we should vote for Rahm, because the money men won't 'get' Chuy Garcia, and that Chicago could become another Detroit.

    Yeah, he said that.

  6. Hi Nancy,
    Our Senators BOTH sit on the Judiciary Committee. I haven't heard a peep from them about Loretta Lynch. I haven't heard a peep from them about fixing the Voting Rights Act. Though they don't whistle their silence speaks volumes.

    Back to your topic. O'Malley's damn near disqualified himself. As said already, chasing the southern white vote that they won't get while dissing the Obama Coalition is the fastest way to blow this election. I hope this message is spread far and wide.

    Tyren M.