LOS ANGELES —
This May, the Crown Publishing Group published Timothy Geithner’s book, “Stress Test,” which covers some aspects of his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury in the Obama administration. One episode he covers relates to the prep he received from Dan Pfeiffer prior to Geithner’s appearance on a series of Sunday TV talk shows. At the time, Pfeiffer was President Obama’s senior advisor.
During that prep, Pfeiffer encouraged Geithner to suggest to the American public that Social Security was not a contributor to the nation’s deficit even though Geithner believed this position to be untrue. In explaining why Geithner should say it anyway, Pfeiffer explained that the phrase was, “… a dog whistle to the left.” In Geithner’s words, this was “… a phrase I’d never heard before. He had to explain that the phrase was code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security.”
Like Geithner, I’d never heard that “dog whistle” phrase used in that sense. After doing some research, I discovered it’s an old device that’s been employed by political operatives for decades. Of course, over the years, I’ve observed a tendency for political activists of all stripes to attach labels to people and arguments with the aim of short-circuiting any fair hearing for opponents or any reasonable consideration of opposing viewpoints.
At one time, being labeled a “lefty,” a “pinko,” a “socialist,” or “a communist” effectively relegated you do a category that relieved opposing partisans of the obligation to take you seriously or consider the possible merit of your viewpoint.
Today, anyone who speaks against Israeli government policies that violate U.N. resolutions runs the risk of being labeled as “anti-semitic.” No one cares what an anti-semitic has to say.
Anyone open-minded about possible restrictions on the availability of assault weapons is tagged an enemy of the Second Amendment. Rabid partisans feel no obligation to listen to anyone who hates the Second Amendment.
Anyone uncomfortable with or in open opposition to abortion is aggressively grouped with misogynists. Of course, there can be no defendable moral support for misogyny.
Anyone offering arguments in support of legalized abortion is lumped together with slave owners and perpetrators of genocide. There’s no room on the planet for accommodation with such as these.
We’ve seen and heard provocateurs slam any opponent of President Obama’s as a defender and purveyor of racism.
It might be argued that the most destructive dynamic operating across the face of America’s body politic is the willingness to respond to these unspoken but heavily freighted messages like well-trained dogs predictably answering the whistle.
The sad and frightening fact is political manipulators wouldn’t use these devices if they didn’t work. If Americans penalized all shameless political partisans for engaging in intellectually unsupportable hyperbole and outright lies, we might see discussions of important issues elevated to a point where we and our politicians make rational decisions rather than “feel good, overly manufactured and thoroughly massaged reactions to cynically orchestrated dog whistles.”
I thought about this as I observed the incredible emotional furor erupting on the heels of the Supreme Court’s holding in the Hobby Lobby case. Let’s be honest. There were credible arguments on both sides. No matter which arguments were most persuasive to you, there were honest, sincere, well-meaning people who held a bona fide belief in the superior merit of the other side.
But then there were some who did nothing more than respond to the predictable “dog whistle.” For example, I actually heard a commentator say that President Obama had launched the most aggressive attack on religious freedom in history. This statement is too ridiculous to dignify with a response. So far as I know, no religious believers have been burned at the stake during this administration. On the other hand, I heard seemingly respectable politicians state publicly that this decision would prevent Hobby Lobby clerks from obtaining birth control. This, too, is an outrageous lie.
For the sake of us all, before anyone gets hysterical about this ruling, read it. Don’t fall for the bloated rhetoric that predicts this opinion will open the door to imposition of Sharia law in the work place. It won’t. Don’t fall for the exaggerated alarm being shouted by professional scare mongers that this will deprive Hobby Lobby employees of access to birth control. It won’t. There are already forces at work seeking to treat their “base” as a pack of mindless dogs ready to add their yapping to the slavish pack. We all have an obligation to review the facts and think for ourselves. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.