Is the RPK using a dog-whistle in its mailers?

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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.

Wikipedia

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?

Photo of RPK mailer for Alice Forgy Kerr
Photo of RPK mailer for Alice Forgy Kerr

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:

Mailer for Matt Koch
Mailer for Matt Koch
Mailer for Danny Carroll
Mailer for Danny Carroll
Mailer for Randy Bridges
Mailer for Randy Bridges (note that this time it’s “Western Kentucky values”)

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.

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Bruce Maples
Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. He has been President, Vice-President, and Treasurer of the Metro Democratic Club, and has served on the Democratic Party Executive Committee in Louisville. He began blogging in 2004, and currently operates two personal blogs (BruceMaples.com and brucewriter.com). He founded Forward Kentucky in the wake of the state elections in 2015, and expanded it in the summer of 2016. He has lived in Louisville since 1992 with his wife and two sons.

4 COMMENTS

  1. If you knew Alice, you would know how utterly ridiculous this is. Absolutely stupid. This is the kind of trash attention seekers throw when they know they’re losing an election.

    • Not a story about her, necessarily. More about the RPK using this tactic. And again, if it was only her mailer, we wouldn’t have done the story (as we noted).

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. As a Kentucky native, I think of work ethic, self-reliance, and perseverance when I hear “Kentucky Heritage”.

    Let’s see – Randy Bridges has a Mexican-American sister-in-law, an African-American nephew-by-marriage, and an Eastern-European niece-by-marriage. If he is against “immigrants, and political correctness, and blacks and browns and Muslims and who knows what else.” as you put it, he must be doing a poor job!

    But your job is to promote an agenda, so this is expected from a partisan site – but you should stop claiming to be objective in the masthead.

    • Thank you for your comment. Again, the point isn’t to attack Bridges per se; it is to call out the RPK for using this across the state.

      As for being objective, we do our best to be objective when we report news, as the title block says. You’ll note that this article is labeled Commentary, where we do indeed promote a progressive agenda, and oppose regressive policies and actions.

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