Saturday, September 30, 2006

Political term of the day: Dog-whistle Politics

Dog-whistle politics refers to the practice of using coded language in political speech that only your intended target audience can hear. The rest of us just find it confusing if we hear it at all. George W. Bush used the technique in the presidential debates. Remember when he mentioned the Dred Scott slavery case? Everyone was scratching their heads wondering what the hell he could be referring to. But it was actually quite obvious, once you let Google do the work for you: anti-abortion activists see themselves as similar to anti-slavery activists. For them, Roe v. Wade is like Dred Scott. So when he criticized Dred Scott, he wasn't just stating the glaringly obvious (that slavery is wrong), he was sending a message to anti-reproductive rights folks that he's on their side, without alerting pro-choice people that this is the case.

A more recent example of this technique might be his seemingly bizarre statement that Iraq is "just a comma". Some on the left have asserted that this is a reference to the saying, "Never place a period where God has placed a comma." So the hidden, dog-whistle meaning would be "don't judge Iraq just yet, because God has more in store." Ironically, this comma saying is used widely by the progressive United Church of Christ, who attributes it to comedian Gracie Allen. (The UCC was the group that had those ads about religious inclucivity that were deemed too "controversial" to air on major networks.) This makes me wonder whether this particular comment was Bush dog-whistling to Evangelicals, or whether he was just being stupid and contemptuous of all the suffering and death that's going on in that area, or having his usual difficulties with the English language.

Update: Language Log supports my hunch that "comma" is not Evangelical dog-whistling.


Anonymous Mad Latinist said...

Didn't know you read Language Log. Did you see this one?

3:33 AM, October 01, 2006  
Blogger Zachary Drake said...

I don't normally read it, but I stumbled there in my research on the whole Iraq-comma thing.

4:42 AM, October 01, 2006  

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