Campaigning for president in 1980, Ronald Reagan told stories of Cadillac-driving "welfare queens" and "strapping young bucks" buying T-bone steaks with food stamps. In trumpeting these tales of welfare run amok, Reagan never needed to mention race, because he was blowing a dog whistle: sending a message about racial minorities inaudible on one level, but clearly heard on another. In doing so, he tapped into a long political tradition that started with George Wallace and Richard Nixon, and is more relevant than ever in the age of the Tea Party and the first black president.
In Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney Lopez offers a sweeping account of how politicians and plutocrats deploy veiled racial appeals to persuade white voters to support policies that favor the extremely rich yet threaten their own interests. Dog-whistle appeals generate middle-class enthusiasm for political candidates who promise to crack down on crime, curb undocumented immigration, and protect the heartland against Islamic infiltration, but ultimately vote to slash taxes for the rich, give corporations regulatory control over industry and financial markets, and aggressively curtail social services. White voters, convinced by powerful interests that minorities are their true enemies, fail to see the connection between the political agendas they support and the surging wealth inequality that takes an increasing toll on their lives. The tactic continues at full force, with the Republican Party using racial provocations to drum up enthusiasm for weakening unions and public pensions, defunding public schools, and opposing health care reform.
Rejecting any simple story of malevolent and obvious racism, Haney Lopez links as never before the two central themes that dominate American politics today: the decline of the middle class and the Republican Party's increasing reliance on white voters. Dog Whistle Politics will generate a lively and much-needed debate about how racial politics has destabilized the American middle class - white and nonwhite members alike.
©2014 Ian Haney López (P)2014 Audible Inc.
First, let me say that I will studiously avoid this narrator in the future. He speaks in a loud voice until the end of each sentence, at which time he drops to a whisper. This might be for some imaginary emotional effect, but in a noisy car that means you either turn the whole thing loud enough to hurt your ears or you miss the last third of each sentence.
I enjoyed the book in the sense that it gave a name to a phenomenon that I have long been watching: the politicians' habit of talking about race without ever directly using offensive language. The author developed the concept in great detail and helped point out racist talk that is not clearly open to criticism. You can see the defense against dog-whistle racism by looking at the critical reviews of this book.
I have to say I could not follow the author into the deeper reaches of his exposition. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as racist presidents? I listened closely to the reasoning, but that part of the story does not ring true for me. If they used terms that kept the whole south from turning against them, maybe they share some blame. In their hearts, I do not think they are racists.
A thoughtful person, especially one who can open his mind to perhaps a bit of self-criticism, would benefit from these ideas even if not accepting the whole package. I believe the important arguments could have been delivered in a much shorter format, maybe an article or a radio interview rather than a book. However, the thinking behind it has a good deal of merit.
My recommendation is read it if you want to raise your awareness of subtle racism. Don't bother if you are unconcerned or unlikely to think through the new ideas. If you read it, you might prefer the written version instead of the maddening alternating volume in the narrated work.
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