The Dog Whistle
September 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
I haven’t been able to attend to this blog for the past month because my Beverly has been in the hospital and I have no energy to spare. I have some ideas that I have composed in my brain, but they will have to wait until later.
Today’s issue du jour is “redistribution”. The solemn discussions of this term, attributed to Obama in a 1990’s speech strike me as humorous, like Jonathan Swift’s Grand Academy of Lagado on the island of Laputa, where learned men analyzed the excrement of suspicious persons.
It is obvious to any thoughtful, or even semi-thoughtful person, that any sizable government must fund its activities by some form of taxation; and taxation’s proper use is to fund those activities or, to state it another way: to redistribute money from taxpayers to those who benefit, directly or indirectly, from the activities of government.
Of course, Romney understands this as well as I do. What he is plainly trying to do is to convey a message to the bigots and self-centered greed-driven voters who comprise his “base” that Obama will take their money and hand it over to the lazy, no-account moochers and bums on whom he relies for political support. It is merely a “new and improved” version of what he told his fifty-grand-a-plate fellow plutocrats in Florida last May.
In this dog-whistle sense, the tactic is not funny. It is a sad appeal to the fearful rich, forever terrified that those whom they exploit will seize power and threaten their wealth. It is this year’s version of the fear of a slave revolt that roiled the sleep of southern slave-holders in the 18th and 19th centuries. It also, to be fair, sends the same signal to some of the white bourgeoise who, oblivious of how absurd and pitiful their fear-based selfishness is, fancy themselves victims of government’s obligation to offer help to their fellow citizens who do, as Romney said, believe that, as citizens of the richest country in the world, having invested their lives and efforts in making that a fact, they should not be abandoned to die untended, starve and live under bridges.
The effort of the Romney campaign to convert this harmless word into an epithet has a hilarious political history. I cannot remember the details, but I think similar tricks on gullible voters are part of the folklore of Texas politics. I remember hearing tales of some candidate regaling an East Texas small-town audience with a shocked tone accusation that his opponent had “actually MATRICULATED when he was in college!” A few-minutes online search revealed that similar jokes on unsuspecting voters have been used with great effect in other states. Here is a quote from one source, describing how George Smathers defeated Claude Pepper in Florida by appealing to the ignorance of voters as follows:
“In the game of politics, successful attacks cloaked in humor are known as ‘killers.’ The all-time masterpiece is a legendary leaflet supposedly devised by Florida Congressman George Smathers to defeat Sen. Claude Pepper in 1950.
It was delivered to rural Floridians and was said to be a significant factor in Smathers’ victory:
‘Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert?
‘Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law.
‘And he has a sister who once was a thespian in Greenwich Village.
‘He has a brother who was a practicing homo sapiens.
‘And he went to college where he matriculated with coeds.
‘Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, practiced celibacy”
If I were managing the Obama campaign, I would tell him to treat this accusation as a joke and further evidence that Romney regards voters as too dumb to understand simple facts about government.
Finally, I can’t resist repeating this nugget from the website where I found the above quote: During the reign of Richard Nixon, some wag made the following remark about his Attorney General:
“A widely quoted remark of unknown origin about John Mitchell, Nixon’s Attorney General, was: ‘When you first meet him, he may seem cold on the surface. But when you get to know him better you realize that’s only the tip of the ice-berg.'”
Contrary to David Brooks’ recent column about Romney’s taped comments about the “47%”, I think this remark about Mitchell fits Romney like a glove.