Friday, September 24, 2010


An awful lot of people on the left think Sarah Palin's use of the president's middle name in a recent appearance on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News program was a birther dog whistle:

"Funny, Greta, we are learning more about Christine O'Donnell and her college years and her teenage years and her financial dealings than anybody ever even bothered to ask about Barack Hussein Obama as a candidate and now as our president," Palin said.

Is it birtherism? Well, yes and no. To me it seems more insidious -- it's a dog whistle to birthers and a different kind of dog whistle to wingnut Obama-haters who disdain birtherism. It's a two-note dog whistle.

To the latter group, it's another right-wing talking point -- the notion that we somehow "don't know" Barack Obama (despite the reams of biographical material available about him, from other writers and himself).  This leads, of course, to the presumption that we "don't know" him because he's really different from us, based on biographical details that aren't in dispute, which leads to sinister slanders like Mitt Romney's assertion that Obama

has not understood the nature of America, in some respects, that the values I've described of love of liberty, of freedom, of opportunity, of small government -- that those values he doesn't share.

But it leads there without reference to Obama's birth, a subject that even some righties regard as toxic.

This works in a way that's similar to Glenn Beck's Cleon Skousen-influenced talk about evil big-city hypercapitalists who are secretly advancing the cause of socialism. When he goes there, Beck is giving his viewers a depiction of the old "international Jew" without the "Jew" part -- which means that it gets across even to people (and there are plenty on the right) who reject anti-Semitism (while it's surely received as anti-Semitism by anti-Semites, as is so much right-wing muttering about George Soros). That's a double-note dog whistle -- and so is what Palin said.

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