Taken from a thread in the pit, talking about Steven Miller’s statement on “Cosmopolitan Bias”.
So, just to be clear, this guy (who is supposedly politically savvy) decided that it would be a good idea to use a coded word that would appear as one thing to most people, but would appeal to a tiny minority of modern neo-nazis? That might make sense… if you, me, and half the news media didn’t immediately notice and jump on it.
That’s the problem with dog whistles. By the time the people who would call you out on dog whistling notice it, it’s a failed strategy. And given how savvy the media is to dog whistles, real or not (seriously when Ted Cruz slams New York values he’s probably not talking about Jews), the entire concept of dog whistling makes very little sense.
Oh, sure, there are cases where it works. If the dog whistle is innocuous - say, mixing in verses from the Bible in your speeches to court Christians - it makes perfect sense. But the moment the message you’re coding for is something you’d want to hide, the whole strategy falls apart. It would take all of five seconds for people to realize that your speech was quoting the bible, and for it to be all over the news, but that doesn’t matter, because nobody cares. It’s simple, straightforward, and utterly uncontroversial.
But if you code your speech full of neo-nazi symbology in the hopes that nobody will notice except the neo-nazis… Well, then you’re, politically, a fucking moron. Neo-nazis are not some huge constituency you can win elections on the back of, and the headlines in the papers on the next day will be all about how you were “dog whistling” for neo-nazis. FFS, they caught that Herman Cain plaigiarised the Pokemon movie, they’re going to figure out if you’re coding messages for neo-nazis.
This is why I think that most talk of “dog whistles” is nonsense. Most politicians are at least somewhat politically savvy. Even a moron like Trump generally can figure out that explicitly appealing to the neo-nazis is a poor political move. And explicitly appealing to them through a dog-whistle is just not enough cover. You’d have to be really stupid to intentionally throw out a dog-whistle that appealed to neo-nazis or pointed to anti-semitism. Which is why I think it’s a lot more likely that they are considerably less stupid, and just didn’t know that the phrase they were using had some history somewhere somehow of anti-semitism.
Or, as Scott Alexander put it in the piece that inspired me to write this thread:
In the same way, although dog whistles do exist, the dog whistle narrative has gone so far that it’s become detached from any meaningful referent. It went from people saying racist things, to people saying things that implied they were racist, to people saying the kind of things that sound like things that could imply they are racist even though nobody believes that they are actually implying that. Saying things that sound like dog whistles has itself become the crime worthy of condemnation, with little interest in whether they imply anything about the speaker or not.
Against this narrative, I propose a different one – politicians’ beliefs and plans are best predicted by what they say their beliefs and plans are, or possibly what beliefs and plans they’ve supported in the past, or by anything other than treating their words as a secret code and trying to use them to infer that their real beliefs and plans are diametrically opposite the beliefs and plans they keep insisting that they hold and have practiced for their entire lives.