How to destroy your campaign in 30 seconds or less: violate the “dog whistle” code

Meet Todd Akin of Missouri, the Republican Senate nominee. He’s the guy other Republicans across the country were depending on to give Republicans the majority in the U.S. Senate. Until he said this:


The scariest part isn’t that Akin was making up his own science, although that’s scary enough. The scariest part isn’t that he inadvertently demonstrated the extent to which Tea Party Republicans have nothing but disdain for women, their health, and their fundamental rights, although that, too, is utterly terrifying.

The scariest part is that Akin did not in any way misunderstand the question. He understood the question perfectly, and he answered very sincerely and articulately, with an answer he clearly believes. He answered it with made-up facts that don’t exist, demonstrating a very sincerely-held attitude that shouldn’t exist, which lays bare an attitude about women which should not stand.

Republicans across the country spent the rest of the news cycle yesterday disavowing Akin (particularly difficult for Paul Ryan, who has — oopsie! —  praised him in the past). But they’re not disavowing Akin because he violated a fundamental value Republicans hold. It’s because he articulated one – but got caught doing it.

There’s a very good reason that “Republican dog whistle” is a political term of art. The term is used when Republican candidates say things specifically calculated to signal to Republican activists, in a way deniable to everybody else, that the candidate is with ’em on issues that they can’t get caught admitting to in public. Akin’s unforgivable sin, in the minds of his fellow Republican leadership, is that he didn’t use the dog whistle – the command only the dogs can hear – to call the dogs. Instead, he shouted the command where everybody could hear it.

The war on women is alive and well in America, stoked by Tea Party fires. But it’s not just a war on women. If you listen closely, the dog whistles are everywhere. When Rick Perry toys around with “secession” talk without taking a particular position, and talks endlessly of “states rights,” it’s a dog whistle, intended to remind his voters that he shares their values, in the context of That Other Time when Southern governors openly discussed secession and states rights.

When Tea Party activists persist in their accusations that Barack Obama was really born in Kenya…or is really a secret Muslim, that’s a dog whistle, meant to signal to their fellow travelers that the President of the United States should be defined by his race, which you may have noticed is not White.

They have dog whistles for women. They have dog whistles for minorities. They have dog whistles for gays. They have dog whistles for the poor, and the elderly, and the undereducated. And all those dog whistles together are meant to create for their voters a clear picture that everybody who isn’t just like you is a threat, and they merit your fear, your anger, and your opposition.

Todd Akin went over the line – he laid it bare yesterday – and he will be punished for it by his fellow Republicans. Which fellow Republicans will punish him? Why, it’s the funders – a group that has its own dog whistle term-of-art: “the job creators.” They get their own especially-complimentary dog whistle, as well they should. They’ve been paying for the research and development of all the other dog whistles. And not by coincidence, their own special dog whistle creates for themselves the rare exception to the above rule: “no, we’re not like you, but we are not to be feared and loathed like the others – we are to be admired…we are your beloved benevolent dictators.

And it is in this context that Republicans are currently accusing Democrats of dividing the country. The field of psychology calls this “projection,” a condition in which one projects one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else.

Projection is why Republican candidates lodge complaints about Democrats’ “angry rhetoric.” Let that sink in: Republicans are complaining about Democrats’ angry rhetoric. The people who question the President’s very birth and his citizenship, question almost everybody’s patriotism, question war heroes’ combat records, and throw around the words “socialism” and “un-American” and “Godless” and who wage wars against the rights of women, minorities, and LGBT Americans, and who characterize as lies things which have been proven by science – THOSE are the people who are complaining that the Democrats are playing too rough.

Dog whistles indeed.

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