Thursday, 02 February 2012

They can (mostly) hear those whistles blowing. (Mostly.) Juan Williams wrote a column on conservative dog-whistles in which he points out the obvious: The language of GOP racial politics is heavy on euphemisms that allow the speaker to deny any responsibility for the racial content of his message. The code words in this game are “entitlement society” — as used by Mitt Romney—and “poor work ethic” and “food stamp president”—as used by Newt Gingrich. References to a lack of respect for the “Founding Fathers” and the “Constitution” also make certain ears perk up by demonizing anyone supposedly threatening core “old-fashioned American values.” Conservatives are pouncing on the idea that “Founding Fathers” could be what Williams calls a “racial code word,” and admittedly, it’s his weakest example. (Though you need not be a Constitutional scholar to understand that everyone who signed that document was not only white but that many of them owned slaves.) The dog-whistle status of the public fellation of source texts is questionable, but Gingrich’s refrain about Obama being a “food stamp President” certainly isn’t. Because not only is it a dog-whistle, it’s a dog-whistle whose etiology is a matter of public record. According to a source of unquestionable integrity, on January 5, 2012 Newt Gingrich told an audience in Plymouth, N.H. that if he were invited to speak at the NAACP’s annual convention, he would accept and “talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” Far from being an idiopathic charge arising from some haze of liberal thought, the connection between blacks and food stamps is present right there in the very words Gingrich said: NAACP + Food Stamps = Dog-Whistle This isn’t that complicated: Gingrich created a rhetorical situation in which any invocation of food stamps would signal to his intended audience that he was talking about black people. The fact that he dispels this notion is belied by the undercurrent of thought that gave rise to the equation in the first place. If he didn’t associate black people with food stamps, mentioning the NAACP wouldn’t have triggered a canned statement about food stamps. Conservatives may wish this weren’t the case—that is, they may want to talk about the rise in food stamp consumption under the Obama administration—but Gingrich has made it impossible for them to do so without invoking the racist undertones of his statement.
The face of malevolence moments after discovering it's dead inside. My wife claims that because I pay so little attention to lips when watching television—the deaf love nothing more than a tolerant spouse and a volume button—I end up pausing faces in the most awkwardly hilariously positions. Over the course of an evening my ring finger can lay waste to thousands of dollars of cosmetic surgery and three-point lighting and those bricks Tom Cruise's costars are contractually obligated to ignore. So she thought it'd be a hoot for me take this talent to the masses and try it out on some politicians. Unfortunately, the results have been entirely awkward without being the least bit hilarious. Consider Mitt Romney: There's quite a bit to be said about Romney's reaction to this bit of self-inflicted political theater, but the obvious message seems to me much more primal. As Darwin wrote inThe Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animal (1872), Romney's "expression of misery [as almost] ludicrous caricature" is typical with respect to infants when doubtfully beginning to cry, or endeavouring to stop crying; for they then generally command all the other facial muscles more effectually than they do the depressors of the corners of the mouth. Two excellent observers who had no theory on the subject, one of them a surgeon, carefully watched for me some older children and women as with some opposed struggling they very gradually approached the point of bursting out into tears; and both observers felt sure that the depressors began to act before any of the other muscles. Now as the depressors have been repeatedly brought into strong action during infancy in many generations, nerve-force will tend to flow, on the principle of long associated habit, to these muscles as well as to various other facial muscles, whenever in after life even a slight feeling of distress is experienced. But as the depressors are somewhat less under the control of the will than most of the other muscles, we might expect that they would often slightly contract, whilst the others remained passive. It is remarkable how small a depression of the corners of the mouth gives to the countenance an expression of low spirits or dejection, so that an extremely slight contraction of these muscles would be sufficient to betray this state of mind. (193) In short, Romney's desire to not be "bursting into tears" at all times has, "on the principle of long habit," created a situation in which his hang-dog muscles "are somewhat less under the control of [his] will." Meaning, of course, that any debate with Obama has the possibility of witnessing theatrics more grandiose than anything seen this side of a playpen.

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