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Dogwhistling From the Romney Campaign? | The Nation

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Jamelle Bouie

Jamelle Bouie

 Politics, wonkery and everything in between.

Dogwhistling From the Romney Campaign?

At The Washington Monthly, Ed Kilgore makes the case that Mitt Romney’s latest slogan—“Obama Isn’t Working”—is a racial dogwhistle:

Many regular folks seeing or hearing this slogan, personalized as it is to the president, are most likely to take it very literally: Barack Obama could fix the economy, but is too lazy to try. People in politics who blow dog whistles invariably deny it and usually express great umbrage at the very suggestion they don’t mean exactly what they are saying and nothing more.

But in this case, it’s the most obvious meaning that is objectionable, and it’s not reasonable to expect everyone to understand the slogan is really just a gesture of appreciation for the artistry of Margaret Thatcher’s wordsmiths, or of some sort of innocent, nostalgic anglophilia.

This is the first time I’ve heard the slogan, and I’m inclined to agree; taken literally, “Obama isn’t working” means that he’s lazy. In fact, as Kilgore points out, the meaning becomes even more clear when you consider that the Romney campaign constantly attacks Obama for taking vacations and playing golf. I imagine that I’ll get flak for this, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to say that this is a clear attempt to evoke the stereotype of lazy, shiftless blacks.

This is frustrating for two reasons. First, racial dogwhistles are the lowest form of political combat. It’s shameful and dishonorable to play on racial fears for the sake of electoral gain, and that’s true on both sides.

Second, if true, it’s indicative of a broader attempt by the Romney campaign to play “I’m rubber, you’re glue” with the president. Romney constantly attacks Obama for “dividing” the country with “class warfare,” while at the same time, using a slogan that stirs ancient resentments. I’m not one for campaign outrage—it’s boring and tiresome—but this, I think, is genuinely problematic.

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