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Voters Beware – It's the Season for 'Dog Whistle Politics'!

2014 is finally here and the mid term election campaigns will soon be in full force. Except for us political junkies, most people look at the upcoming campaigns with much of an attitude, that it's more of a nuisance than anything else. Poll after poll proves that most of the average public doesn't really start paying attention until around two months before the election. We have all pretty much have gotten used to our TV viewing to be interrupted continuously by campaign ads and our mail boxes full of campaign mailers. Now on to the reason for this piece.


One particularly insidious form of campaign messaging is the ad that is designed as a 'dog whistle' message that targets the beliefs, fears and emotions of a target audience. Just as a 'dog whistle' is at such a high frequency that it is beyond the range of human hearing but still gets the dog's attention; 'dog whistle' messages pass above most of the public and connects with the target. Probably the clearest definition I've found comes from Wikipedia under the term “Dog Whistle – Politics”. Quoting the website directly: “Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is only ever used as a pejorative, because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the dog-whistle messages are frequently themselves distasteful, for example by empathising with racist or revolutionary attitudes. It is an analogy to dog whistles, which are built in such a way that their high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs, but is inaudible to humans.

The term can be distinguished from "code words" used by hospital staff or other specialist workers, in that dog-whistling is specific to the political realm, and the messaging referred to as the dog-whistle has an understandable meaning for a general audience, rather than being incomprehensible.”

Probably one of the best known 'dog whistle' messages was from the 1988 presidential campaign and is now known as the Willie Horton Ad crafted by then Bush Campaign Adviser, Lee Atwater. Up until the ad was run, George H.W. Bush was running behind in the polls to Governor Michael Dukakis. Once the ad was released it turned around the Bush Campaign by linking Dukakis to Willie Horton, essentially claiming that Dukakis was soft on crime, allowing for convicted felons to be on the lose to commit more heinous crimes, preying on innocent white women. It's no accident that Lee Atwater introduced this tactic to the national stage. He being a southern of South Carolina, knew precisely how 'dog whistle' adds work and their effectiveness. Since the 1960s it had become an important part of the 'Southern Strategy, when it was no longer allowable to make overt racist statements. All 'dog whistle' ads have some things in common.

The message is so designed to appear to be politically correct and innocuous in its choice of language and subject. Even if the coded message is racist, sexist, anti-gay, anti-Semitic, etc; on the face of it, the message will seem acceptable to the general public. The subtle coded message is designed to raise fear, anxiety and concern within the targeted subgroup, rousing them to solidification and action. In addition, there is always a scape goat in the coded message. For example; Ronald Reagan's use of the term “Welfare Queens” was a coded racist message against black women AFDC recipients. Finally, 'dog whistle' messages divert responsibility away from the deliverer or author allowing them to claim non responsibility by focusing only on the overt message and not the coded message. Just as with racist 'dog whistle' messages, if someone challenges the deliverer about it being racist, the accused reverses and diverts the attention to the accuser and claims that they are 'playing the race card'.

The rhetoric that is contained in the coded messages is developed from a variety of sources. Focus on the Family is one source that deals with the Christian Right's pet issues such as anti-LGBT, single parent families, anti-abortion, anti-birth control, etc. Most of it is summarized in the coded message of “Traditional Family Values”. An example of a 'dog whistle' message could be something as simple as hold public employees accountable for their own retirement. To the targeted subgroup the message reads something like this: “All government employees are lazy and 'milk the system' to get as much as possible while putting out the least effort. Government employees have a vested interest in keeping a dysfunctional system that way. The pejorative statements and meanings just go on and on. Organized labor is another convenient message topic while containing a 'dog whistle' coded message. However, the left also knows how to play this game..

Favorite targets for the left include business, the wealthy usually referencing the 1%, Christian fundamentalists, Right to Life, etc. However, the left doesn't seem to be as well organized as the right with their 'dog whistle' campaigns. I am sure if the campaign style continues, we'll see the left continue to develop this style.


As the election season continues to develop, I think we'll be hearing more and more of these 'dog whistle' messages, an indication of how deeply divided the population really is. If we consistently call out those who are using this type of messaging, it may be possible to change minds listening to these toxic messages. They need to realize they are being subtly manipulated.



This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Randy1949 February 03, 2014 at 11:48 AM
@J. B. Schmidt -- If you remove a black and white stricture like, "Premarital sex is bad because God hates it so you must never have sex until you're married" some people will be lost and assume it's okay to have sex whilli-nilly. Of course there are reasons why we don't have careless sex -- pregnancies we're not ready to support, the spread of STDs, broken hearts -- and we should be stressing them rather than the old never-never, which didn't work all that well. They apply to married thirty-somethings rather than just unmarried teens. 'Teen' births is kind of a misnomer too, because there;s no reason why the occasional mature 19 year old married couple shouldn't have a baby. I take offense that you think Lyle and I don't have a standard merely because it wasn't etched on some stone tablet.
Randy1949 February 03, 2014 at 11:53 AM
That said, I do believe J.B. was the first to bring up teen pregnancy (or maybe it was out of wedlock births in the urban community) as an example of what out Godless progressive value system leads to.
Lyle Ruble February 03, 2014 at 12:04 PM
@J.B. Schmidt.....Teen births are down, period! Therefore, your argument is flawed. As far as abortions are concerned, we have absolutely no record of how many illegal abortions were performed each year. Out of wedlock births can be explained by the simple fact that most young women who were pregnant out of wedlock usually got married before the birth. ......I briefly knew Ted Bundy and therapeutically dealt with a few of his victims' friends and families. He was a stone cold sociopath. Quoting a serial killer takes a great deal of hutzpah. One fact that you must realize is that any behavior or belief can be rationalized, which his quote is doing. If you buy into his argument, you become as twisted as he was. The same can be said of rationalizing Adolf Hitler.........Aberrant thinking, behavior, etc deviates so far from the norm and social expectations that it doesn't deserve serious consideration. To claim that the view is more widely held and acted on is a true disservice. You have proved nothing and stretched your own credibility to the point of absurdity.
Randy1949 February 03, 2014 at 12:11 PM
@Lyle -- The ability of some ostensibly traditional religious people to rationalize within the 'rules' has never ceased to amaze me. In one case it was a rationalization of cruelty and neglect to animals because "God put them on earth for our use." My own morality is based on the pain my actions will cause others. That includes animals.
Randy1949 February 03, 2014 at 12:54 PM
Yes, Pale Rider, animals are tasty. It is Nature that the large herbivorous quadruped species produce surplus males which are then eaten by predators -- either us or lions. However, it's not necessary to human beings to make them suffer any more in the process than they have to. I will wear leather as a byproduct of the food industry. I won't wear fur that is caught specifically for the purposes of decoration.
J. B. Schmidt February 03, 2014 at 01:20 PM
Lyle- I don't buy his argument; only to point out he is stating your moral construct. Societal 'norm' is no more then what society wants. Anyone outside of that (Bundy, Hitler, Stalin, etc) maybe outside the societal norm; but they are not immoral/evil/wrong (based on your moral construct). Unless you have decided to include an absolute to use as a standard, a society that calls such people deviants is simply placing them under oppression for selfish gain. For you yourself stated, "The only reason that you consider the change as deviant is due to the fact that it deviates from your belief systems. "
J. B. Schmidt February 03, 2014 at 01:36 PM
Randy -- Can you locate the use of God to justfy the cruel treatment of animals?
Randy1949 February 03, 2014 at 01:38 PM
Sorry, it was a direct quote from my very Catholic mother-in-law.
J. B. Schmidt February 03, 2014 at 01:39 PM
Randy -- I am not saying that you don't have standards. However, based on your's and Lyle's justification of morality as an evolutionary process, you have no right to impose those standards on others. Even the Bundys of the world.
Randy1949 February 03, 2014 at 01:55 PM
On behalf of the women Bundy robbed of their lives and tortured while doing so, we most certainly do have the right to impose standards, no matter whence they derive.
Lyle Ruble February 03, 2014 at 01:59 PM
@J.B. Schmidt.....What seems to allude you is that there is a moral structure that is not remotely dependent on religious precepts and has evolved over eons of time. In most instances, the moral structures, norms, folkways and values are congruent and are interlocked in function and existence.
Randy1949 February 03, 2014 at 02:31 PM
If I'm not mistaken, J.B. started out by using the existence of morality among human beings as evidence for the existence of God, which would lead into the argument that we accept his version of God-given morality. Rather circular.
J. B. Schmidt February 03, 2014 at 02:48 PM
Randy, do you have quote for that?
Randy1949 February 03, 2014 at 02:51 PM
No, I was summing up.
J. B. Schmidt February 03, 2014 at 03:06 PM
Well you would be wrong. At no point in this thread did I try to prove, a God. I also never denied the social conservatives desire to place a moral structure on society. It just irritates me when you God-phobic people continually make the assumption that it is the Christian imposing morality on society; while, in truth, it is the those relying on evolution as a moral guide who truly work the hardest to impose morality as they try to form humanity into the utopian dream civilization.
J. B. Schmidt February 03, 2014 at 03:07 PM
Lyle, it only alludes me because it doesn't exist. Either evolution has created the need to protect the 'greater good'; in which the 'great good' is subjective based on the needs of the moment. In that case, nothing is good or evil only what society wishes to permit at any given time. Or there is a standard within nature that all nature abides by in which there is absolute good and evil. There is no middle ground in which you can have absolutes without them being absolute.
J. B. Schmidt February 03, 2014 at 03:37 PM
Ministered to? Are we talking a Bachmann clinic in which they press a Bible against your forehead until they visibly see the homosexuality leave your body? No! --- Like any sin, there is a time for harsh reaction and a time for simply speaking to Christ's love. Unfortunately, many Christians take the former. While Randy thinks we prohibit the things that God hates (which is sooooo 1500's), it is more about doing the things that pleases God. Again, not because of damnation, but because of Christ's love. We live in a broken world and the more broken it becomes, the harder it is to show the world that healing comes from Christ; rather than this worlds addiction simple pleasures.
J. B. Schmidt February 03, 2014 at 03:46 PM
Agreed on both counts.
Randy1949 February 03, 2014 at 04:00 PM
@J.B. -- I'm not 'God-phobic'. I'm just Bible-phobic, 2,000 or more culture-phobic, and extremely phobic of people who come off like they're the only ones who know what any potential deity might want of us.
J. B. Schmidt February 03, 2014 at 04:08 PM
Fair enough.
Lyle Ruble February 03, 2014 at 06:14 PM
@J.B. Schmidt .... It does allude you, in as much as you don't seem to want to even consider anything other than your position. As far as morality being a part of social evolution, there is more than enough evidence to support that as the actual case. Every social group has evolved social rules by which the group and the greater society is maintained in a state of stability and order. Order and stability are two of the elements of social structure that are necessary for survival. Answer this question: If the Creator imbued all of us with morality, then why did G-d create such moral diversity, which we call moral relativity? ............ As far as there existing states of absolute good and absolute evil, I don't believe there are absolutes. Those judgements appear to be highly subjective based on the actors involved. I asked you earlier to define good and evil and I have yet to see your definition. Social norms and values has a great deal to do with the definition of good and evil. The question is if there exists universal good or evil.
Bob McBride February 03, 2014 at 06:19 PM
elude, not allude. elude: escape - allude: suggest. Wouldn't have said anything, but we seem to be alluding incorrectly to elude repeatedly here.
Lyle Ruble February 03, 2014 at 06:29 PM
@The Pale Rider.....Since most homosexuals are not 'breeders', then same sex attractions remain at or about 5% of the overall population and has done so for as far back as can be traced. As far as I know, we still haven't isolated the exact physiological mechanism that leads to same sex attraction. The existence of homosexuality does not threaten the species survival anymore that blondes.
Lyle Ruble February 03, 2014 at 06:38 PM
@Randy 1949 .... I couldn't agree with you more about people stating the 'will of the Almighty'. It is dangerous to all that don't agree with the prognosticator, revelator, scriptural interpreter and zealot. Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson both gained a reputation for condemning others in the name of G-d and telling the rest of us how G-d is punishing us.
Lyle Ruble February 03, 2014 at 06:39 PM
@Bob McBride.....Thanks for the correction.
J. B. Schmidt February 04, 2014 at 09:41 AM
God is good. Simplistic answer? Yes. Let me explain. When I evaluate our existence (the when, whys and hows), I am faced with disbelief that where we are, why we are and how we are is the product of a random cosmic accident. In the beginning, the universe came from something or was created by something. That something needed to exist outside the realm of time, as claiming time has gone on infinitely poses significant problems. Therefore, the only answer is an all powerful being, because everything else demands a beginning leaving us continually in the same conundrum. From creation forward, the statistical possibility of the big bang and the existence of a universe by random forces to create earth and our solar system with such precise tolerances, requires a greater amount of faith than the existence of a creator. The same could be said for life. We have never witnessed the natural creation of DNA, the creation of a new species or genetic mutations that produce positive outcomes (the adaptation we witness is possible because those species adapting already have the genetic code required to make the adaptation), couple that with Laws stating everything moves from order to disorder; it again strains the boundaries of faith to accept completely random acts by a completely random and unguided universe created life. Then we have the Jews and the Bible. Why is it that a the only people to exist, as a people, from the beginning of written record throughout history and into the present are the same people that are the original carriers of the Bible? That alone speaks volumes. Finally, we have Christ. A man that by all non-Biblical accounts was a great teacher and innocent man. Christ claimed to be God, so He either is or he was crazy. Nothing in historical record points to him being crazy. --- So where do I put my faith? The unproven, statistically improbable, no solution for why we exist science explanation; or, a written account that continues to be proven via archaeology and works with objective science. The God of the Bible has guided his promised people through 4-6 thousand years of human history, promised salvation through Christ and an eternity with him through faith. God is good and my faith rests on him. --- Lastly, if we are a cosmic accident, this existence is meaningless. The same forces that created us will also destroy us and we are powerless to change that. Therefore, while playing well with others is good emotionally, it is of little consequence in the realm of time. If I live to 20 or 80, regardless of accomplishments, it is void of meaning. Why should I concern myself with morality? Especially when I can live a more exciting life without morals in 20 years then I can by living morally for 80. For a lost world, God is a purpose, a meaning and a goal.
J. B. Schmidt February 04, 2014 at 10:10 AM
Your loss.
Lyle Ruble February 04, 2014 at 11:02 AM
@J.B. Schmidt.....I haven't seen that much misinformation in one place in a long time.
J. B. Schmidt February 04, 2014 at 02:34 PM
I assumed as much. It's my specialty.
J. B. Schmidt February 04, 2014 at 03:02 PM
This will be intersting. http://debatelive.org/

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