What kind of “dogwhistle” was that?

The gubernatorial nominee of the Republican Party of Florida stated during the speech following his nomination that it was important not to “monkey this up,” meaning that Florida’s economy should not be burdened with the kinds of massive social programs and other changes advocated by the Democratic nominee, a Negro named Andrew Gillum.

Some are saying that this was a “dogwhistle” to appeal to White racist voters.

A dogwhistle is something that a political candidate says or does to make White racist voters believe that he’s their man, or at least preferable to the other candidate. In 1988 George Herbert Walker Bush engaged in dogwhistling with his advertisements featuring a Negro murderer named Willie Horton, who had been allowed out of prison and thus given the opportunity to commit more crimes — assault, armed robbery, and rape — by Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, who was Bush’s opponent in that election. With that advertisement, voters were given to believe that Bush was not soft on Negroes the way Dukakis was.

Back before I heard the term dogwhistle, I used to call this practice winking, which I think is really a better metaphor. A wink is a signal that implies, “I’m on your side,” without clarifying what benefit if any that is supposed to confer. The term dogwhistle has become so widespread, though, that there seems no point in fighting it.

The great master of the dogwhistle was Republican campaign strategist Lee Atwater. In a 1981 interview, Atwater described how overt racism became sublimated into talk about tax-cuts:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”: that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now. You’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is, Blacks get hurt worse than Whites. [Lee Atwater, 1981]

Atwater then tries to backtrack from what he has said, and suggests that “tax-cuts” may have had merely a subconscious racial appeal, but as I recall there was nothing subconscious about it. The “Black welfare queen” and Affirmative Action were familiar to everyone, and tax-cuts and less government seemed as if they might be ways to attack these problems indirectly, while avoiding overt discussion about race. Did it work? No. The main effect of this general approach was to lull White people into avoiding conflict, into thinking that racial preservation would be accomplished indirectly while in fact the cause was not advanced at all.

For the voter, the problem with choosing a candidate based on dogwhistles is that whatever is conveyed by the dogwhistle carries no obligation, because it was never actually said — and we know that there has been calculated dishonesty in this kind of racial signaling.

George H. W. Bush needed to mobilize the racial feeling in White voters, because otherwise there was not much enthusiasm for him as a candidate. It was a dishonest manipulation, however. Although Bush won White votes with the Willie Horton ads, he was anything but pro-White. It was he who signed the calamitous Diversity Lottery into law, which among other deleterious effects has certainly increased the number of murders in our country.

DeSantis’ utterance makes no sense as a dogwhistle. Why? Because everybody already knew that Gillum was a Negro, and a rather dark one at that. There was no point to dropping hints about it. By the way, did you notice that my opponent is a Negro? That is what the “monkey this up” comment was supposed to convey, according to the dogwhistle-theory. But there was no need to say that, and nothing was to be gained by saying it, because everybody could see it.

The idea that DeSantis’ “monkey this up” comment somehow functioned as a dogwhistle is very stupid. 

The mention of “socialism” could be seen as a kind of dogwhistle, insofar as Southern White voters tend to think of socialism as redistribution of wealth from Whites to Blacks — an interpretation of socialism that will immediately spring to mind when a Black is advocating it, especially amid the influence of recent reports from South Africa. Republican media always euphemistically explain the dispossession of Whites under Black rule as an effect of “socialism.”

“Socialism” is not a correct explanation of what causes things to go wrong when Blacks take power, but this is how Republicans have become accustomed to talk. Racial concerns are cloaked entirely in non-racial terms. One just hopes that the original thought behind all this dissimulating rhetoric has not been forgotten.

If DeSantis ran advertisements discussing the disastrous effects of “socialism” while showing scenes from South Africa, thereby associating Gillum with anti-White violence through being a “socialist” — that could be an effective form of dogwhistle. People would hear socialist and think criminal Negro parasite.

But DeSantis doesn’t have to go that far. It seems highly unlikely that Florida, a state that doesn’t even have an income-tax, would elect a far-left Negro governor — at least, not yet. If demographic change continues unabated, however, many bad things will become possible.

Things being as they are now, all the wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth over the monkey-comment won’t hurt DeSantis, and may to some extent help him, if he just follows the example of Donald Trump by not acting overly concerned about it.

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