Whistling Dixie

Eoin Kelleher on Twitter: "Dog whistle politics #Trump #Charlottesville #AltRight #Cartoon… "Whistling Dixie originates from the concept that an impossible or improbable goal will come true or be believed by the listener. While “dog whistle” relates to sound that may be received only by dogs, political dog whistles are intended to be heard clearly–and usually are.

Just over one year ago, on October 20, 2020, Donald Trump declared in debate with Joe Biden that he is “the least racist person in this room.” At one point in 2019, the claim covered being the “least racist person in the world.” Voters fully expect candidates to make silly, inane statements, even bold untrue ones, in a pitch intended to be heard by the most tone deaf of members of the pack.

In August 2017, the nation was audience to a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where marchers swathed in Nazi regalia chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” Declaring, somewhat ambiguously, the then-president offered that there were “very fine people on both sides.” To political dogs, the whistle was loud and clear.

In August 2017, the nation was audience to a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where marchers swathed in Nazi regalia chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” Declaring, somewhat ambiguously, the then-president offered that there were “very fine people on both sides.” To political dogs, the whistle was loud and clear.

Less than one year later, in May 2018, the Virginia GOP launched criticism in mailers declaring that a candidate for a House seat in Congress was anti-Semitic based upon critical statement in a 1991 book on foreign policy. The preponderance of pushback in the media at the time concluded that the VA GOP simply did not understand anti-Semitism or did not care about any distinctions. Perhaps some in the state party were comforted that their candidate succeeded in the election. 

Dog handlers understand that the key to conditioning is repetition, using cues along with a whistle to ensure a response from the canine in training. The political dog whistle, in contrast, is not always specifically directed. It is more like whistling Dixie, a broader message. There is, however, a common element in many such messages, often cued to xenophobia and, more recently, racial replacement theory. In Charlottesville, it was Jews evoking both xenophobia and racial replacement themes.

The advantage of the dog and political whistle is that they do not produce loud, irritating noises to distract listeners, including dogs and voters, and where noted, can be easily denied.

The advantage of the dog and political whistle is that they do not produce loud, irritating noises to distract listeners, including dogs and voters, and where noted, can be easily denied. Little research is available to define the distance over which a dog whistle may be effective. The GOP gubernatorial candidate determined that personal appearances with P45 were not in his interest, especially as GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin also self-described as not a politician but a businessman, precisely one of Trump’s continual claims. Nonetheless, Mr. Youngkin also asserted that he favored election integrity in the Commonwealth, calling for an audit of voting machinery.

However nonpolitical Youngkin attempted to portray himself and his candidacy, he fell prey to at least one reliable red-meat canard championed by national and state party leadership: anti-Semitism. At a late October rally, the candidate asserted that George Soros, who is Jewish, funded the insinuation of operatives into Virginia school boards. Media inquiries to the campaign failed to elicit direct evidence of any such contributions to school board candidates. Soros’ contributions to other activist organizations are not only well known but recorded and documented.  Had Youngkin offered facts to substantiate his claim, the anti-Semitic connotation might have been mitigated.  Unfortunately, the right wing has used the Soros ploy far too often as a political whistle to message a connection between Soros’s money and left wing politics.  No evidence; no case; only insinuation.  

As much as he attempted to whistle Dixie to gain and attract voters as a potential giant slayer, a David in an epic struggle with goliath, Youngkin yielded to his political advisers and own instincts to succeed; it may be said that Youngkin has extended the life cycle of anti-Semitism in the state GOP. That vibrancy will feed another candidate at another date. His permanent contribution to his political party is abundantly clear – Jews cannot replace them.

Although uncertainty may haunt and dog every political campaign’s path to its Election Day reckoning, there is little ambiguity that the “evil that men do lives after them.”     



Categories: cultural icons, elections, Issues, National, political discourse, political parties, politics, racial symbols, republicans, State

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