Dog-whistle politics is 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. The analogy is to a dog whistle, whose ultrasonic whistling sound is heard by dogs but inaudible to humans.
The Republican Party of Kentucky is using a phrase in its mailers that could be a dog-whistle: “Kentucky heritage.” Is it?
Candidates all across the country have been using dog-whistles for some time, with most of the use coming from Republican candidates. Ever since the “Southern Strategy” of the 1960s, Republicans have used subtle and not-so-subtle racist terminology and imagery as part of their political advertising. (See: Willie Horton ad)
If a mailer had used the phrase “Southern heritage,” we would all know immediately that it was a dog-whistle for a time when whites reigned supreme across the South, and blacks “knew their place.” It would be called out immediately, and justifiably so.
But “Kentucky heritage”? After all, we have a Kentucky Heritage council, “responsible for the identification, protection and preservation of prehistoric resources and historic buildings, sites and cultural resources throughout the Commonwealth.” So, the phrase itself is fairly innocuous.
However, what does Alice Forgy Kerr (among others) have to do with preserving historic buildings?
If the only place this phrase were used were in a mailing in Lexington, PERHAPS one could say “well, Lexington is an historic town, and has a unique heritage, and so on and so forth.”
But since the RPK is using “Kentucky heritage” across the state, and they AREN’T referring to preserving historic buildings, what exactly are they trying to say? What heritage are they talking about? What emotions are they trying to call forth?
Here’s a few more to demonstrate what we are talking about:
There seems little doubt that using this phrase is meant to motivate voters who are worried about diversity, and immigration, and black and brown people. It is a milder form of “Southern heritage,” aimed at white voters across the state. It is a way to say “vote for Republicans, or you’re going to be overwhelmed by immigrants, and political correctness, and blacks and browns and Muslims and who knows what else.”
It is, in fact, a dog-whistle. And the RPK person who wrote the text knew that when they wrote it. And the RPK political consultants who sent out the mailers knew it as well.
At a time when hate crimes are on the rise, and the Republican president says the alt-right are “good people,” the last thing we need in Kentucky politics is more fanning the flame of racism and hate. Even if it helps you win elections, it’s still wrong, and still destructive.
You need to change, RPK. If you have issues to run on, run on those issues, and stop using race and scare tactics to try to win. Our commonwealth deserves better.