Everyone can hear it now. This Internet-driven, hyperactive presidential race is forcing accountability on two of the oldest tricks in politics: dog whistles and secret smears.
With a "dog whistle," politicians use code words to signal unpopular stances to one target audience, while avoiding a backlash because the reference is lost on others. Many people miss President Bush's layered language for evangelicals, from hinting that legal abortion is like slavery to his odd prediction that history will see Iraq as just "a comma." (It only makes sense if you know the proverb, "Never put a period where God has put a comma.") Code words don't fool everyone, but from "states' rights" to "welfare queens," GOP campaigns have tapped racial resentment without facing widespread opprobrium. Secret smears run on a similar axis, enabling politicians to undermine an opponent without taking responsibility for the attack. But the times are changing.
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