On paranoia and left’s obsession with hearing ‘dog whistles’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Last night, Ann Romney sought to dispel the notion that somehow she and Mitt have had a “storybook marriage.” So she pointed out that their life together included struggles, such as her MS and breast cancer. And then she concluded: “What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.”

It was a good point. No matter who you are or how much money you have, you can’t stay married to someone for any length of time without things getting real. It’s not all romance.

But although Romney’s line about “real marriage” was clearly delivered in this context, I noticed some Tweets suggesting that Romney’s reference to “real marriage” was actually code language used to attack gay marriage.


Look, I understand different people interpret things differently. Whether it’s a Rorshach Test or the Rashoman Effect, a disparity of perceptions has been observed and shown to be true. Having said that, there is no possible way that Ann Romney’s comments last night could be interpreted as an anti-gay cipher.

I made that point on Twitter, and got this response from a follower:

Talk about hyper-sensitivity. We have arrived at the point where everyone’s motives are immediately assumed to be pernicious. You can’t have a policy discussion about welfare reform without being labeled a racist. You can’t talk about marriage without being labeled an anti-gay bigot.

Sometimes a kiss is just a kiss.

For their own good, though, this paranoia has to stop. Maybe I can help their mental sanity by explaining something?: The whole point a dog whistle is for your adversaries to not hear it.

It should go over their heads, and straight into the ears of your base (who nod approvingly.)

If you want an example of a real, modern day cipher, here it is. As I noted at Politics Daily, “During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama used the terms ‘bamboozled’ and ‘hoodwinked,’ which to most reporters meant nothing. But to those who had seen the film, the lines were an obvious reference to ‘Malcolm X.'”

(The people who might have been offended by Obama furtively paying homage to Malcolm X would never know; the people who would “get” the joke would be inclined to like it.)

There is no doubt that politicians have, in the past — and still sometimes do — use code language. But the phenomenon we’re witnessing today is quite different. Republican politicians say something, which their base takes at face value. And then later, the left assigns a cynical interpretation to it.

But that’s not how code language works.

Why is it that liberals are the only people who hear the conservative dog whistles?

Matt K. Lewis