The Art of the Dog Whistle

Poor Mitt Romney. He’s wooden and inauthentic on the campaign trail, and yesterday, his attempt at a ‘dog whistle’ to those uncomfortable with Obama’s “otherness” simply betrayed his very curious lack of self-awareness.

A ‘dog whistle,’ for those unfamiliar with the phrase, is use of language and/or allusions that send a message to a targeted constituency without communicating that message to the public at large. George W. Bush was a master at it: he would use biblical phrases that were familiar and meaningful to evangelical Christians but unfamiliar to most of us to send a signal that he was one of them–without alerting anyone who might have a problem with so explicit a declaration of faith.

In an interview with Larry Kudlow yesterday, Mitt “went there” by opining that Obama’s beliefs are “foreign to American experience.”

Mitt, Mitt, Mitt. This might work if you were one of the dramatically declining number of Americans living the life of Opie in Mayberry, but in case you hadn’t noticed, your beliefs and experiences aren’t exactly part and parcel of the “American experience”–whatever that means these days.

Very few Americans are married to someone who drives “a couple of Cadillacs.” Fewer still claim a tax deduction of 77,000 for upkeep of their “dressage” Olympic horse, or install car elevators in one of their multiple homes.

Your devotion to your church probably does reflect American religiosity, but most denominations don’t share a belief that Jesus visited the continental U.S. after he rose from the dead, or that his visit and further instructions were inscribed on gold plates that were subsequently discovered buried in Palmyra, New York.

Let’s face it: neither you nor President Obama are typical Americans. Obama is a member of a racial minority; you are a member of a religious minority. You grew up privileged, he spent a good part of his childhood abroad. ┬áIn both cases, your experiences have shaped who you are. In neither case have your atypical backgrounds made you “foreign” to the American experience. Both of you are part of the increasingly diverse fabric of this country.

Dog whistles only work when you are clearly a member of the group you are signaling–and the other guy just as clearly isn’t.


  1. So what’s all this “car elevator” envy? It’s not as if this $ 55,000 per copy expenditure was somehow a frivolous luxury. The Romney campaign has defended the elevator, saying it is a common fixture in the area because of space constraints. After all, what’s the purpose of bulldozing a 3000 square foot home and replacing it with 11,000 square feet if you have to sqeeze around all of your autos and have no room for your olympic grade horse(s)? At least we wouldn’t see one in the Oval Office…….or would we?

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