The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

There’s A Pattern Emerging Here

It took me an entire weekend to absorb Hillary Clinton’s most recent bit of “dog whistling.” Not because I didn’t understand it, but because I couldn’t quite believe it. That is, I couldn’t believe how unbelievably stupid a move it was for any Democrat.

Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed Wednesday to continue her quest for the Democratic nomination, arguing she would be the stronger nominee because she appeals to a wider coalition of voters — including whites who have not supported Barack Obama in recent contests.

“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article “that found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”

“There’s a pattern emerging here,” she said.

Clinton’s blunt remarks about race came a day after primaries in Indiana and North Carolina dealt symbolic and mathematical blows to her White House ambitions.

I have just a couple of things to say to the Clinton campaign.

Actually, the first was said very effectively by Prometheus, early on in the Democrats’ courtship of working class whites, in response to a column by E.J. Dionne.

But the long term is another matter. To build a majority this fall and make history, both candidates would need a lot of help from a group with its own reasons to be discontented: the white working class.

“Working class” seems an antique term, but the people it describes still exist, more now in the service industries than in manufacturing. Demographers often use education levels as a surrogate for class position, and the past three decades have not been kind to Americans who are not college graduates.

To which Prometheus adds something that the Clinton campaign, such as it continues to exist for however long it can, and any Democratic campaign would do well to remember.

There’s real (as in, they actually feel it, not that there’s a substantial reality to it) concern among the white working class about how their personal interests will fare as compared to other in-groups. So let me talk to them for a minute.

First of all, you guys are right to worry about threats to your well-being. But so are we. Where you’re wrong is thinking Black and Latino interests run counter to yours. Look at that definition Mr. Dionne used. You think it would include any Black folks?

Indeed, it not only includes Black folks, but in many instances — as the saying goes — when the rest of America catchs a cold, we get pneumonia.

The other thing is something that I would caution the Clinton campaign and any Democratic camapaign about when it comes to dog-whistle politics.

Dog-whistle politics, also known as the use of code words, is a type of political campaigning or speechmaking employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different or more specific meaning for a targeted subgroup of the audience. The term is usually used pejoratively by those that do not approve of the tactics.

…The term is an analogy to dog whistles built in such a way that humans cannot hear them due to their high frequency, but dogs can.

Perhaps no one in the Clinton campaign understands this, so let me make it plain. Black folks can hear tht dog whistle too. I guarantee that in Black homes across America, where two or more are gathered and listened to that interview, one turned to the others and asked “You all heard that, right?” And the answer came back, “Mmmm hmmm,” followed by a collective sigh.

There is history in that sigh. I used to wonder, growing up, why some of the older folks I saw as church would shout and cry as if something traumatic had happened to them, and I always wondered what that tramau was. Now I think I understand. What the Clinton campaign is attempting to telegraph to white (and specifically southern) Americans is something those Black folks I witnessed shouting and crying had to hear every day, from people they knew and in many cases worked for. And for generations they had to quietly absorb it.

What is the Clinton campaign saying with its dog whistle to white Americans? In the bluntest terms, the Clinton campaign is saying to those who can hear their dog whistle: “That uppity nigger things he’s better than you. That black sonofabitch thinks he’s smarter than you. Are you really gonna let that boy run your country?”

Does the Clinton campaign think Black Americans don’t hear that dog whistle?

As Pam pointed out, the white Americans Clinton wants to reach heard that dog whistle loud and clear.

I’ve talked to people-a woman who was chair of county elections last year, she said she wouldn’t vote for a black man.” Patrick said he wouldn’t vote for Obama either.

Why not?

“Race. I really don’t want an African-American as President. Race.”

What about race?

“I thought about it. I think he would put too many minorities in positions over the white race. That’s my opinion.”

This is the constituency, the new base, upon which Clinton wants to build her winning coalition. It’s been done before, I think. The woman quoted above sounds a lot like this spokewoman for Concerned Women for American, speaking in a clip from the documentary Red State.


Even Peggy Noonan — fleeting as her relationship with reality is much of the time — can hear that dog whistle.

White Americans? Hard-working white Americans? “Even Richard Nixon didn’t say white,” an Obama supporter said, “even with the Southern strategy.”

If John McCain said, “I got the white vote, baby!” his candidacy would be over. And rising in highest indignation against him would be the old Democratic Party.

To play the race card as Mrs. Clinton has, to highlight and encourage a sense that we are crudely divided as a nation, to make your argument a brute and cynical “the black guy can’t win but the white girl can” is — well, so vulgar, so cynical, so cold, that once again a Clinton is making us turn off the television in case the children walk by.

“She has unleashed the gates of hell,” a longtime party leader told me. “She’s saying, ‘He’s not one of us.'”

She has indeed unleashed the gates of hell, but on the Democratic party. Because Black folks can hear that dog whistle too. We’ve heard it for so many generations that it’s now a genetic trait, which is became because it has been a necessity for survival. You learn to hear the dog whistle when you learn that fast behind it come the bloodhounds. You learn to hear the dog whistle when you learn that fast behind it comes scapgoating, burned homes, and dead sons and husbands and fathers.

You learn to hear the dog whistle because you learn that nothing good will follow it, and hearing the dog whistle may mean a chance to get out of the way soon enough to survive.

The hell Clinton has unleashed on the Democratic party is a significant loss of the Black vote in the unlikely event she becomes the nominee, using the narrow range of weapons left in her arsenal. We may not vote for McCain in large numbers, but its not a stretch that many of us would simply stay at home. And while the Clinton camp may ultimately say that the black vote doesn’t matter (and trott out Black Clinton apologists like Earl Ofari Hutchinson to echo that line), it will matter a great deal in Democratic races further down the ticket, from congressional races to stat and local offices.

What will the effect be for the Democratic party in those races even if, in a flip right out of some bizarre alternate universe, Clinton should win the nomination and the White House?

And if Clinton is not the nominee, she will still play role in the campaign if she supports Obama as the nominee and urges her supporters to back him. How sincere will she come across after all that’s been said by her campaign? Will anyone forget the desperate race-baiting she engaged in, with apparent disregard for the consequences to anyone but herself?

Like I said, we can hear the dog-whistle, and we know what to do when we hear it, because we remember what has always followed it in our history in this country.

So, there’s a pattern emerging here, alright. But Clinton has been blind to it. To the detriment of her own campaign, and perhaps the Democratic Party.

Unless she’s running for another office in another party. I hear McCain still needs to pick a running mate.


  1. Thanks for the wonderful piece. “She” and her husband blew the whistle but I can tell you that it may have been too late. I can’t remember exactly when it was but Barack Obama made a speech once where he stated that “whole world was watching” the contest between him and HRC. And I can tell you that everyone, every where and of every race heard it LOUD and CLEAR.

    For many of the other racial groups in America, he’s been steadily gaining ground as the Clinton machine keeps pushing the race card. It’s interesting to me. My husband in Asian and I am Black. Every member of his family is going to for Obama. Usually for the Republican.

    On the other note:
    As a New Yorker, I’m setting up the vote Against- HRC. If and when she runs for the Senate again. I hope all the Harlemites realise what has happened and is happening. Ahhhh….I feel good. No-one is calling me paranoid anymore. White Women, I’ve always maintained are the TRUE BARRIERS TO RACIAL HEALING in America.

  2. Desperation is an ugly, ugly thing. It’s astonishing to see someone who came into this race with so much political capital to squander it the way she has. It’s stunning the way she has alienated core constituencies. And this has been going on since South Carolina and Bill’s Jesse Jackson remarks! I won’t deny that HRC is a fighter who doesn’t give up, but she fights dirty and her obsession is showing. I can’t decide if Bill himself is losing it, or if he secretly doesn’t want her to win and is acting crazy to serve his own interests.

    It’s like she’s the anti-Obama. He’s all, “We are one people! Yes we can!” while she’s Ms. Us vs. Them. She was divisive from the start, and it has only gotten worse.

    And now she’s practically begging for the VP nod. Some say that this statement of hers was intentional — a way of saying to Obama, “You can’t do this without me!” when in fact he needs her like a fish needs a bicycle at this point.

    Memo to the Clintons: you have become irrelevant, and you have no one to blame for it but yourselves.

  3. I can tell you that african americans in North Carolina heard the ‘dog whistle’ long before her most recent divisive comment. I work for the state and many of my co-workers were planning a boycott should HRC win simply because of her negative campaign tactics but this latest rant has all but gauranteed she loses the african-american vote if she is the nominee.

  4. I knew you’d nail this right to the wall where it belongs. She has consistently run her campaign as the negative to Obama’s positive. Where he says “yes we can”, she says “yes I can, no YOU can’t”. Where he says we can get past superficial differences for the sake of the real issues, she says “no, what really matter are questions of elitism and white v. black voters”.

    I remember one of the early debates where she ducked questions claiming it was a ‘black/brown debate’ and the questions asked did not pertain to the observers of the debate, as though the economy and war were only the property of white folks.

    She turned Hispanics against blacks in Texas and California.

    Where Obama struggles for unity, she encourages division. Fortunately, this madness will be over soon enough, and the power will pass out of her hands to someone more qualified.

    She’d do well to begin framing herself as the champion of senior citizens and bigots everywhere, because she’s lost just about every other base.