John Boehner is a bigot, and proud of it. But you knew that. He is a regular God, Guns, and Gays Republican. He is trying to be a crafty bigot, Dog Whistling to the base. But what is the point of Dog Whistling when you are being openly a bigot? Let's see whether we can unpack what he says and what he means by it, and why. Here is an important statement he made.
On Sunday, Kossack gf120581 wrote a Diary,
Boehner: Not even a gay kid would make me do a Portman
quoting this exchange
MARTHA RADDATZ: Can you imagine yourself in a situation where you reversed your decision, as Portman has, on gay marriage if a child of yours or someone you love told you they were gay?To unpack that you have to follow down the rabbit hole to where they are all mad, or they wouldn't be here.
SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Listen, I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. All right. It's what I grew up with. It's what I believe. It's what my church teaches me. And I can't imagine that position would ever change.
The Republicans' LGBT Problem
We know, of course, that only a handful of Republicans respect LGBT rights, most notably gay marriage, in any way. Barry Goldwater was once nearly the only one, except for Ronald Reagan, both on non-discrimination, since that was before gay marriage became an issue. And then Dick Cheney, and the Log Cabin Republicans, and many of the Libertarians, and GOProud (which has Grover Norquist on its board), and now Rob Portman. Wait a minute, that's no handful, that's nearly a tipping point!
But there is a funny thing about tipping points in public opinion. When you get to one, you still have half of the population in question opposed, and some fraction bitterly opposed. In fact, Langer Research (PDF) finds
On the political front, 72 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents favor legalizing gay marriage, vs. far fewer Republicans, 34 percent. StillSo at that rate, a bare majority of Republicans will support gay marriage in another nine or ten years. According to a model Nate Silver built a few years ago, even in Mississippi in 2024.
that’s up by 18 points among Republicans since 2004, as well as by 24 and 29 points among independents and Democrats, respectively.
Similarly, while just 33 percent of conservatives support gay marriage, that’s up by 23 points from nine years ago. Support encompasses more than seven in 10 liberals and moderates alike, with the greatest growth among moderates, 31 points higher now than in 2004.
The problem, then, is that this is a losing issue nationally and in swing districts, where Republican candidates for office have to weigh the risks of getting clobbered in a primary if they get ahead of the Party, or in the general if they lag behind the public. Similarly for guns, abortion, Social Security, and all the rest of the preferred punching bags of the Right, which are also moving in our direction, though currently not as fast as on Gay Marriage.
But none of that matters in safe districts. There Republicans can be as benighted as their constituents like. Thus Boehner among many others. Boehner has never faced serious opposition in any of his House races, going back to 1991. So why would he change?
How Dog Whistling Works, and Why
Physical dog whistles are pitched so high that humans cannot hear them, although dogs can. Metaphorical dog whistles are couched in equivocal language that means different things to different people, so that the target audience gets the message, and others miss it completely, or if not that, so that the real meaning can be denied with sufficient plausibility for the current state of politics, and a pretense can be maintained that the language referred to policies for the good of the whole population.
All of this goes back to before the Civil War, when the South insisted that the argument was not over slavery (which they preferred to call "Our Peculiar Institution") but States' Rights, and when Sen. Stephen Douglas (of Lincoln debate fame) insisted that in the Original Intent of the Founders Congress had no authority to limit slavery in the Territories. Lincoln systematically demolished that pretense in his Cooper Union address, but Original Intent remains a Dog Whistle for racism to this day, especially when you hear it from Scalia at the Supreme Court. They mean the Original Intent shown by protections of slavery in the Constitution, before all of those pesky amendments, except when they mean the Original Intent of the Articles of Confederation, when Congress had no taxing power. Also the intent that only rich White men could vote, and Senators were picked by state legislatures, not by popular vote.
The modern era in Dog Whistling began in 1964, after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts that put an end to the most egregious Jim Crow segregation, but by no means all. After the Republican National Convention that year baseball icon and Rockefeller Republican Jackie Robinson wrote,
That convention was one of the most unforgettable and frightening experiences of my life. The hatred I saw was unique to me because it was hatred directed against a white man. It embodied a revulsion for all he stood for, including his enlightened attitude towards black people.But it was already clear that in making racist appeals to the South (or anywhere else where they could work) the Republicans had to have deniability in the North and in the media. Hence the Dog Whistles. As Republican strategist Lee Atwater explained it,
A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany.
As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry S. Dent, Sr. and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now [the new Southern Strategy of Ronald Reagan] doesn't have to do that. All you have to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues he's campaigned on since 1964 and that's fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.It doesn't always work. Trent Lott made the mistake of Dog Whistling at segregationist Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday celebration, saying
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 [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites [emphasis added]. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either.Up until then, such Dog Whistles as "these problems" standing in for, say "uppity N*****s" passed almost unremarked. In this case, the Internet blogosphere got hold of the tale and wouldn't let go, so that Lott had to resign as Senate Majority Leader.
Boehner's Dog Whistles
Three of the statements in the quotation above refer to how society used to treat Blacks, gays, women, and so on. Restoring what "we" grew up with, what "we" believe, what "our" church tells us to the Jim Crow era, to the early white-bread 1950s, when schools, water fountains, buses, and almost anything else you could think of were segregated in the South; gays were firmly in the closet; "miscegenation", contraception and abortion were widely illegal; and even most teenagers knew their place has been Republican policy since the start of the Southern Strategy described above. It is the same whenever you hear a Republican talk about taking back "our" country, or about "real" Americans.
Other Anti-Gay Dog Whistles
In my Code Words glossary on dKosopedia, I have a few entries that relate to this, most notably.
Greatest country in the world, Theand
The United States—in the early 1950s, when Jim Crow was still the law, gays were firmly in the closet, abortion was illegal, and even most teenagers knew their place.
Human Rights come from God aloneHere are a few other examples from around the Net:
Governments cannot grant Abortion or Gay rights. Those would be Human Wrongs.
Dan Savage: Ann Romney's "Real Marriage" Dog Whistle
Dog whistles about sexual orientation and gay marriage have cropped up during this campaign, as well. What else are we supposed to make of some folks talking about "preserving the sanctity of marriage"?Dog Whistle Watch
It will be most interesting to see exactly how much attention Romney pays to the president’s support for same-sex marriage. On the one hand, this is one audience that will be pre-mobilized on the subject, and won’t need any specific urging to treat the November election as a “Cultural Antietam,” as Pat Buchanan put it today, much as Virginians love their Civil War references.And here is a Diary I wrote in 2010. Public opinion on Gay Marriage is moving faster than expected back then, up to 58% of the population today, for a rate of increase of about 2.5% annually. The rate is slower among Republicans, but the latest data say that it will be only a decade or so before a majority of Republicans supports it. Even in Mississippi. (Note to Kossacks in Mississippi: We appreciate your work. Keep it up. You are winning. It took 150 years since the Civil War to get this far, but the end is in sight.) As to Alabama, I have three words: Fried Green Tomatoes.