Gone Deaf from Dog Whistling (we are not taking your guns away)

I have been bothered recently in my efforts to talk (more often argue) with people who are still counting themselves as Republicans. Some of these people are my friends, making these conversations even more difficult.

I get peppered with the same talking points that we all hear from FOX and Rush, How Obama is a secret Muslim, or how he is a closet terrorist, but these don’t bother me so much. Even from old friends, I can wave off lunacy as lunacy. That’s easy to ignore. But the part that sticks in my craw is trying to argue actual facts and policy with these folks.

Because it is here where I can feel my sanity breaking down. It is here where I simply cannot understand or accept that someone who I know to be intelligent and sane can throw out and stand behind blatantly false and provable points.

From what I see, it is here where you can see the results of decades of Republican Dog-Whistling, and how it has altered their supporters ability to see reality.

The personal thread that started this thinking was an argument that I got into where I was being told how dangerous Obama was because he would "take all our guns away".

That seemed ridiculous. I have never heard a speech where Obama said he was interested in confiscating all guns. So I asked him to clarify where he got that from. He came up with this quote from some Obama speech:

"If you’ve got a gun in your house, I’m not taking it," Obama said. But the Illinois senator could still see skeptics in the crowd, particularly on the faces of several men at the back of the room.

So he tried again. "Even if I want to take them away, I don’t have the votes in Congress," he said. "This can’t be the reason not to vote for me. Can everyone hear me in the back? I see a couple of sportsmen back there. I’m not going to take away your guns."

Which seemed odd, since that quote made it pretty clear to me that Obama is, in fact NOT interested in taking guns away, but he continued by saying:

What he didn’t say was ‘I won’t place limitations on new gun sales, or add taxes and regulations on ammo, or require registration or ballistic fingerprinting, etc.’

I, naturally, lost my cool and blew up at my friend at how stupid that sounded, after all how can you judge someone on that they didn’t say, when they are stating their opinion so clearly, and the conversation degenerated into name-calling and nothing of value. (which I regret.)

But looking back on it now, especially in light of the "terrorist" and "voter fraud" narratives, and especially "Joe the Plumber’s" reaction to Obama’s tax plan, I think I understand a bit better that conversation, and the inability of many of those on the hard right to speak the same language as everyone else.

And the clue came in Krugman’s book "Conscience of a Liberal". Chapter 6 is an examination of the rise of Movement Conservatism, where he discusses "Dog-Whistling". Up until Reagan, Conservatives had little to run on, the New Deal was popular, and times were largely good. Racism was really the only dividing issue with any real strength, but overt racism cut too narrow a band to prove effective. But by learning to speak in a language that only some would understand, the overt racism became covert, and divisive racist dogma could be coated in moderate sounding language. We are seeing this now with the narrative of "poor minorities buying homes caused the financial crisis" or "Acorn is stealing votes" These stories are meant not to be taken literally, or even be true, they are meant to signal to groups of voters which group to hate, and which side to be on.

Over time, I feel that those who have trained their ear to hear the Dog Whistle have gone deaf in any other frequency, so they look to both sides of the political spectrum and try to find the Dog Whistle. So it doesn’t matter what a Democrat says in their speech, only the non-existent dog whistle is heard. So in the quote:

"If you’ve got a gun in your house, I’m not taking it," Obama said. But the Illinois senator could still see skeptics in the crowd, particularly on the faces of several men at the back of the room.

So he tried again. "Even if I want to take them away, I don’t have the votes in Congress," he said. "This can’t be the reason not to vote for me. Can everyone hear me in the back? I see a couple of sportsmen back there. I’m not going to take away your guns."

Everything is ignored except:

I want to take them away

"Bingo!" the Conservatives say, "The Dog Whistle is found. We now know what Obama really wants."

This is also how Bush got elected twice, the base heard his compassionate conservative talk and understood the dog whistle beneath it, Independents and some democrats took him at face value. And even with Obama speaking to "Joe the Plumber" the big quote from Obama is:

My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re gonna be better off if you’ve got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.

Joe in a later interview calls that Socialism. Why? because he only hears the Dog whistle:

spread the wealth around

It’s sad. "Socialist" is the new "N___er"; thrown as an epithet at those who won’t fall in line with Conservative Orthodoxy. Never mind that Joe wouldn’t actually pay more in taxes. Obama can’t explain it to him. It doesn’t matter what Obama says, it’s what he didn’t say. And what his Dog Whistle said. It doesn’t matter that there was no whistle, Joe shows that he has gone deaf in the other frequencies, and only hears the whistle.

So we now are trying to talk and debate with each other, and it simply isn’t possible. We may be speaking the same language, but the opposite sides of the political spectrum hear totally different things. I’m not sure how I talk to my friends about these kind of communication gaps, because I am sure that they are convinced that the issue is with us, not them. I’m not sure how you fix this either. My best guess is that, from a political perspective,  we need to clearly state what we Democrats are going to do, then do it. Over and over. And be as honest and up front as possible. In the mean time we will have to try to be conscious of this communications gap, and work to get around it. Maybe the loss of hearing will heal over time.

Or maybe it truly is permanent hearing loss.

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