Political Animal


March 20, 2013 4:01 PM Drawing Attention To Dog Whistles

By Ed Kilgore

When I read the headline of the AP story—“Dems slam Cuccinelli comment on slavery, abortion”—I wondered what ol’ Cooch had done to gussy up that ancient RTL chestnut. So I read on:

Nearly eight months before election day the Democratic Party of Virginia released video from last June that shows Cuccinelli addressing a small gathering of religious conservatives meeting in Williamsburg. It continues the Democrats’ strategy of portraying the socially conservative attorney general as too extreme for a swing state.
“Over time, the truth demonstrates its own rightness, and its own righteousness. Our experience as a country has demonstrated that on one issue after another. Start right at the beginning — slavery. Today, abortion,” Cuccinelli said in remarks recorded by a Democratic Party tracker at a Family Foundation event on June 14, 2012.
“History has shown us what the right position was, and those were issues that were attacked by people of faith aggressively to change the course of this country,” he said. “We need to fight for the respect for life, not just for life but for respect for life. One leads to the other.”

Okaaaay. So Cuccinelli had reached into his files or his memory banks and flogged the false analogy between slavery and abortion—and hence between abolitionists and anti-choicers—that’s been utilized offered by anti-choice pols every day for forty years. So why the news flash?

Then I realized: just because I, as a paid connoisseur of right-wing memes for quite some time now, found this stuff familiar didn’t mean the non-anti-choice-activist public did. There’s a reason this sort of thing is so often called a “dog whistle.” When during the 2004 presidential candidate debates George W. Bush said he’d never appoint a Supreme Court Justice who would condone the Dred Scott decision, he was talking about abortion, not slavery, though an awful lot of viewers—even journalists—didn’t seem to get it.

So Virginia Democrats are right to draw maximum attention to this habit, particularly among African-American voters who might not be aware that the anti-choice forces have been referring to themselves as “the new civil rights movement” for ages. Indeed, it’s a good bet that pols like Ken Cuccinelli have rarely if ever made any reference to the struggle for African-American emancipation and equal rights in any context other than as an analogy for the battle to repeal reproductive rights. So to hell with dog whistles: let’s hear it loud and clear!

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • boatboy_srq on March 20, 2013 4:37 PM:

    One wonders whether Cuccinelli recalls that at least some "people of faith" "attacked aggressively" to preserve and promote slavery: the SBC coalesced as a pro-slavery sect, after all.

    One also wonders exactly what he thinks telling Southerners that Confederates were all Gawdless Mercantilist Colonialists will do for him.

    RE: abortion=slavery: considering what disrespect the Teahad shows for anyone either Brown or Born, that does follow - in a twisted kind of way.

  • c u n d gulag on March 20, 2013 4:40 PM:

    I have been saying for years, that Conservatives, who've been wrong on almost all Civil and Human Rights issues since Thugg clubbed Ugg, for the latter for having the temerity to suggest that the former acknowledge that he, Thugg, wasn't alway right, and maybe he should listen to the rest of the people in the cave, have decided to put on the cloak of Martin Luther King Jr, with a flourish that the late James Brown would envy, and decided to make zygotes, the "New Black."

    "Civil Rights," my fat, cottage-cheese-white ass!!!

    And this is the same crowd that screams about the value of Civil Rights for any human "LIFE," from the nano-second of conception, and how sacred that "life" really is, not only don't care about putting people to death, but prove time and again, that, once that zygote fully forms grows in the womb, and exits it sans abortion, they don't give one flying feck about it, or the mother who went through the trouble, pain, and expense, of having that baby.

    "Once you're out - you're outta luck!!!"

    "Life" is, apparently, synonymous with "Womb."

    They want women to go through "Forced Labor," to keep them under the control of men.
    That is all that this is about, ever was about, and ever will be about - the subjugation and "enslavement" of women to "their" men, and/or to the demands of all men.

    We're rapidly coming to the point in this country, where abortions were more easily gotten in the Pre-Christian era in the Middle East, and the Middle Ages in Europe, than they are in a Red State.

    These are sick, sociopathic, overly religious, misogynists, and their female enablers, and need to be stopped.

    And the funny thing is, that the Christ that they revere so much, said as much about "abortion" as he did about the Higgs-Boson particle.
    The same goes for homosexuality, btw.

  • c u n d gulag on March 20, 2013 4:47 PM:

    Today's Conservative Christians, like "Cooch," want to forget that their ancestors were the ones quoting The Bible in defense of slavery, and that it was the LIBERAL Christians, who were on the side of abolition!

    "Cooch," is smart not to mention the distinction. This way, the people whose relatives were wrong, can be put in a better light.

  • Josef K on March 20, 2013 4:59 PM:

    Which is more pathetic? (a) Equating the buying and selling of human beings a chattel to a medical procedure that may actually be necessary to save a life, (b) that this insane equivalence is used time and again by political opportunists, or (c) that there's an actual sliver of the population that buys into this and forms its electoral decisions around it?

  • boatboy_srq on March 20, 2013 6:25 PM:

    @Josef K: Yes.

    @c u n d gulag: Agreed. But it's an interesting thought exercise to imagine what a Red state Dem could do with that.

  • DRF on March 20, 2013 7:58 PM:

    Slow down there, Ed. The analogy between the abolitionist movement and the anti-abortion movement is certainly challengeable, but it's not crazy or unreasonable and it's not a "dog whistle". Cuccinelli's point is that both movements start from a strong moral point of view and both were driven by religious groups and "people of faith". In the case of the anti-slavery movement, history has certainly borne it out; in the case of the anti-abortion movement, well, we're still in the midst of it--time will tell whether 100 years from now it is viewed in the same way as the anti-slavery movement.

    As I said, the analogy is subject to challenge. For one thing, the pro-slavery movement in this country was largely driven, directly or indirectly, but economic self-interest. That's obviously not the case with the pro-choice movement. There are other distinguishing features, but my point is that it's not an outlandish viewpoint.

  • jhm on March 21, 2013 7:16 AM:

    @boatboy_srq: In point of fact, most religionists of the time, North as well as South, were pro slavery (or at least unwilling to argue against the pro side). I recommend "Freethinkers" by Susan Jacoby for the details, but abolitionists were regularly denounced, by Northern preachers, as atheists. In fact the 'silken ties' which bound the Northern and Southern branches of many churches led to one general meeting where in a motion to oppose slavery was tabled, in favor of a crusade to abolish Sunday mail delivery (a hobby horse of religionists for decades.