Monday, April 14, 2008

Blowing the dog whistle

-- by Dave

We've been saying all along that Barack Obama's candidacy is going to bring out the ugliest face of the Republican Party before long.

But today's Republicans know that they can't engage in the open race-baiting of the Strom Thurmond era without endangering their party's image as "inclusive" -- an image intended not so much to appeal to minorities but to moderate voters repelled by overt racism. So they talk in a lot of code about "preserving white culture" and other well-worn tropes, often hinting and nudging at the old race-baiting vocabulary (such as the time Karl Rove talked about that "trash-talking" and "lazy" Obama fellow).

It's called "dog whistle politics," and Republicans -- including John McCain -- are its past and present masters.

So it's kind of funny that everyone's pretending that the most noteworthy recent example of it -- from Rep. Geoff Davis, a Republican from Kentucky -- is no big deal (at least, so far, it seems to be getting a pass from the media). Davis told an audience at a Republican fund-raiser:

"I'm going to tell you something: That boy's finger does not need to be on the button," Davis said. "He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country."

Wheeeewit!! Here boy!! C'mere an' get some good ole red meat! And of course [shpittoo], nobody hearing someone call a grown black man "boy" would have any cause to think it meant anything racist, right? [Wink nudge wink]

Davis himself was quick to disclaim that there was any subtext intended:

But Davis campaign spokesman said Davis misspoke and was not directing a racist statement at Obama but instead calling into question his qualifications for office.

"He simply misspoke," said Jeremy Hughes, Davis' campaign spokesman.

This is, to put it kindly, unadulterated horseshit. We all know that Davis was giving voice to a certain set of racial attitudes, and that he did it as part of a talk before a banquet audience indicates it was clearly intentional. And no one but the most blinkered and gullible Republican (though there are plenty of those, it's true) should be willing to buy it.

It will be telling, I think, to watch how the media handle it. If we're supposed to take Davis' glib manure-spreading at face value, it will speak volumes about a Fourth Estate that makes a fetish out of ostensibly offensive remarks by a black pastor for weeks on end but can't find the time to consider how Republicans are talking about one of the two remaining Democratic candidates for the presidency.

That's especially now the case that Davis has apologized. But note how he does so:

On Saturday night I gave a speech in which I used a poor choice of words when discussing the national security policy positions of the Presidential candidates. I was quoted as saying "That boy's finger does not need to be on the button."

My poor choice of words is regrettable and was in no way meant to impugn you or your integrity. I offer my sincere apology to you and ask for your forgiveness.

Though we may disagree on many issues, I know that we share the goal of a prosperous, secure future for our nation. My comment has detracted from the dialogue that we should all be having on legitimate policy differences and in no way reflects the personal and professional respect I have for you.

That's all swell and wonderful, but Davis never apologizes for what was most egregiously offensive about the remark -- that it referred to Obama the way an old Confederate slaveholder would refer to his holdings, the way old segregationists referred to civil-rights workers. It wasn't simply that it was offensive, it was that it was classic race-baiting.

And of course, Davis' defenders have been quick to proclaim him free of racist taint. Already, we can see how it's going to go:

Campbell County Democratic Party Chairman Ken Mullikin said he could "not believe" Davis would make such a comment.

"When you get somebody in an emotionally charged situation they speak what is on their mind," Mullikin said. "That comment clearly shows what Geoff Davis really believes about African-Americans."

But Northern Kentucky Republicans strongly disagree that Davis is a racist. They said it is Obama who has slammed small town America and working class people with his recent comments that those voters are "bitter" and clinging to guns and religion.

"Geoff Davis is absolutely not a racist," said Fourth District GOP Chairman Kevin Sell of Alexandria, who attended Saturday's dinner but said this morning he does not recall Davis' use of the word "boy" to describe Obama.

"I've known this man since 2001, and have campaigned with him," Sell said. "This is a man of integrity. All he was doing in that speech was questioning the experience of a candidate and the defense of our country. There was no question about that."

That's right: that whistle you heard may have brought every dog in town to my yard, but really, you didn't hear anything.

And besides, it's those Democrats who are the racists, dontcha know?

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

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