Dog Whistles

No one trusts the person who starts making fun of other people as soon as they leave the room because it makes you wonder: What is he saying about me when my back is turned? Krugman:

What I think of is the contrast between how Obama operates and how Bush operated. Bush and his handlers were masters of dog-whistle politics — of conveying to their base, in ways that went under the radar of mainstream media, the message that he was really one of them. The vaguely Biblical language about evildoers, for example, struck most mainstream commentators as being slightly odd, but never mind; what it conveyed to the religious right, however, was the message that Bush was a dominionist at heart.

Obama, however, seems to go out of his way to convey the message that although he rode to office on a wave of progressive enthusiasm, he and his people don’t respect the people who got him where he is. There are the gratuitous jabs at the “professional left”, the “both sides are wrong” rhetoric even as the right goes all out to destroy him, and stuff like Lew’s testimony. I mean, how hard would it be to have a little message discipline here?

In fact, it often seems to me that there’s an almost compulsive aspect to the administration’s anti-dog whistling. Maybe it comes from hanging out with the political and business establishment, which leads to a desire to seem respectable by dissing the DFHs. But memo to the president: Wall Street will hate you anyway. All you’re doing is undermining the enthusiasm of people you need.

Just to be clear: I’m not saying that it would be right or justified for progressives to take their ball and go home. Obama has brought real change — above all, health reform, imperfect as it is (and if it survives). But yelling at the base won’t get them up and going; a little respect might.

7 thoughts on “Dog Whistles

  1. Na ga happen. The Ds are reconfiguring their base to claim the center right. In 2008, Obama’s faction threw out the working class, the poor, and the elders. In 2009-2010, the supposed DFHs in Obama’s faction gave Obama cover for the bank bailouts (no action on FinReg at all), the health insurance bailouts (HCR), and the normalization of Bush’s executive power grabs. Now, as Obama goes for the sort of voter who thinks that Colin Powell is a respected figure, he’s throwing the supposed DFHs out of the “base” as well. Krugman’s living in the past.

  2. i’m writing about this right now actually.

    I must say, i’m enjoying the fact that black people are complaining now, because it sucks a lot of the wind out of those tired “oh it’s just whiny white progressives who are upset” meme.

    adding, sort of unrelated: I was driving to the market the other day and saw a black 20-something kid carrying an AFSCME picket sign reading “Obama yes, Nutter NO.” wondering if we might see our promise-breaking mayor primaried.

  3. “Health reform” my ass. And that phrase doesn’t even make sense. How does one reform health? Diet? Exercise? Have a tumor surgically removed? wtf? just wtf.)
    And that in three years. Or four, or never, or whatever.

  4. The relationship between Bush and his base was complicated, to say the least, starting with the part that there were diverse parts to that base, and the voters he was dog-whistling to with Biblical rhetoric weren’t the same people he referred to as “the haves and the have-mores.” But I don’t think there’s any formulation of that relationship that included anything like respect. This was, after all, a guy who called his consigliore “Turd Blossom.”

    Now I don’t expect that Obama respects me either; the vibe I get from him seems to me the desire to be the smartest guy in the room, the wise elder who will straighten out all our parochial little attitudes and, eventually, our problems. But what concerns me isn’t that he likes to make light of my concerns to entertain big donors, it’s that he doesn’t seem to remember what he ran on, either policy matters or hopey-changey rhetoric. That’s the frustration.

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