Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rick Perry's "dog whistle" and a campaign that is nearing its end

Code language in politics is an interesting thing. Candidates will sometimes say something in a way that is intended to appeal to the biases of a certain constituency, without explicitly saying the thing they are implying. In politics, this is a called a "dog whistle," which is to say that only those listening for it will hear it clearly. Only those open to the message will understand.

And even if others understand what is really being suggested, the politician in question can deny his or her true intention.

A couple of days ago, presidential candidate Rick Perry (R-TX) appeared on the Hannity program and said that President Obama grew up "privileged" and "never had to go through what Americans [are now] going through."

Jonathan Capeheart, Washington Post writer, apparently well attuned to all frequencies used by GOP politicos, understood the game being played:

That's the dog whistle that Rick Perry is going for. The president was not raised privileged. He wasn't handed anything. He absolutely had to work for everything he got. But for Rick Perry to say that President Obama was privileged and didn't have to work for what he got, that code is, he got into Columbia University, he got into Harvard University not through merit, not because he is smart, but because he took the place of someone else through affirmative action, that someone else being someone white.

If there is one thing that Herman's Cain's short-lived rise as a potential GOP candidate has given Republicans, it has been the ability to deny that race has anything to do with radical-right disdain for President Obama. And perhaps it has obscured that. Leave it to Rick Perry, now a desperate candidate, to start going there again, if only in code language.

Rick Perry likes to say that he is a man of action, not of words. But in this case, his use of words is almost clever. Perhaps he should be a little less clever, and tell us more directly what he intends by calling Obama privileged. Just this once, Governor Perry, please do a better job of saying precisely what you mean.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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