The Dog Whistler

No, this is not a blog about Cesar Millan. He’s the Dog Whisperer. I’m referring to a relatively new sensation that seems to have arisen. It’s amazing how often people are getting accused of it these days.

In case you hadn’t heard of it, I’ll give you an example. One of the contestants for the office of Governor of Florida used the phrase, “monkey this up.” He was suggesting to the voters that they not vote for his opponent who has been described as a socialist, and if they did, they would be monkeying up the election.

Unfortunately for him, his opponent is African-American. The press immediately jumped on him as being racist. Because he used the term, monkey, he was accused of using “dog whistle” tactics.

It’s More Insidious

Wikipedia defines dog whistle politics as “political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different, or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.” In other words, to use a dog whistle is to say something that seems innocuous to the larger population but communicates something more insidious to a targeted group of insiders.

I have no clue if this particular politician was actually doing that, but I doubt it. Parts of the media have determined that such words as “Chicago” and “golf” are racist code words as well. Everyone and his brother are getting accused of it these days. For someone in such a key race to risk doing such a thing on national TV is highly unlikely.

The upshot of all this is that you really have to be careful about what you say. It occurred to me that if someone used the phrase, “not a day goes by,” I could construe that as a dog whistle about my Italian heritage (you may have to think about that, but if you say it out loud it may come to you). Fortunately, most of these dog whistler accusations are contained within the political arena. It’s sad that it’s come to that, however. Someone even wrote a book about the subject. I think I’ll pass on that one.

The Refreshing Side

On the other side of it all, there’s something refreshing about a person who says what she means or means what he says. Refreshing, yes—but dangerous. As a preacher, I’ve been accused of saying such things from the pulpit. I never actually dog-whistled, but that didn’t stop folks from taking things the worst possible way.

I suppose this is why Jesus warned us to simply say, “Yes or no; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) We’re a little too prone to evil if we let our mouths run. There’s also a Biblical proverb that says, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” (Proverbs 17:28) I suppose this is a bit too much to expect from a politician, though.

Remember this, however. If you can hear the whistle, you’re a dog.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

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