Dog Whistles

I’ve blogged about dog-whistle politics before (most recently here, with the most famous example being President Bush’s Dred Scott shout-out during the 2004 presidential debates), because I find it incredible how often Bush et. al. use the technique to send covert messages to their conservative Christian base. Ian Welsh at The Agonist has identified Bush’s much-discussed “just a comma” comment as another dog-whistle.

[T]his is another case where Bush is using code words to speak directly to his Christian right base.

The phrase is: "Never put a period where God has put a comma." Which is to say — it ain't over yet, and God may well make it better. So Iraq's bad, but if we trust in God, he'll make it better.
When I’ve written about dog whistle politics before, sometimes progressives are reluctant to believe that there’s a there there, but that’s the whole point. Only the dogs are meant to hear the whistle.

In fact, many of the times that Bush uses phrases we find completely bizarre, and chalk up to his tendency to create new words like “suiciders,” are actually dog whistles.

In his 2003 State of the Union speech, Bush listed as one of his goals “to apply the compassion of America to the deepest problems of America. For so many in our country — the homeless, and the fatherless, the addicted — the need is great. Yet there is power — wonder-working power — in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.”

Wonder-working power? To me it sounded like he’d been reading too many comic books. To conservative Christians, it sounded like the refrain of one of their favorite hymns, There Is Power In the Blood:

There is power, power,
Wonder-working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power,
Wonder-working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

In the transcript of just about any Bush address, I could pull out a similar dog whistle. It’s no surprise he’s inserting them into interviews now, too, with the elections around the corner and reports of disaffected conservative Christian voters. When the master blows the whistle, the dogs come a-running.

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