Romney's Dog Whistle in Wisconsin
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 11:22:04 PM EST
You know that old time dog-whistle you heard the other day -- you know the one -- the one that helps demagogues to name a problem in society, or people who do or say things they don't like, and assign blame?  Well, that was Mitt Romney engaging in a foundational part of his campaign to appeal to the Religious Right voters he needs by denouncing "secularism."  

While this has been part of the narrative of the Religious Right for decades, few of us outside of the Religious Right and those who study and write about it, have much appreciation for how important this is for the pols who engage in it, and for their audiences that are conditioned to hear it in a certain way.  

I wrote an essay about this in 2008 when the dog whistling had gone bipartisan and Mitt Romney had begun his presidential campaign by whistling for the dog while also trying to claim that he supports the separation of church and state. The Democrats who were afflicted at the time, seem to have since come to their senses about the politics of secular baiting.  But it has become a standard part of Romney's act, as it has with Rick Santorum -- and if we listen carefully, we are likely to hear much more of it as the campaign season heats up.

The demagogic pols who do this know that their intended audience is hearing something different than the rest of us. For most of us, secularism means one of two main things:  A non-theistic belief system; or the idea that a "secular" government, is neutral with regard to religion, and yet an uncompromised guarantor of the right of religious and non-religious belief. But Religious Rightists hear something different.

Chip Berlet, the senior analyst at Political Research Associates, explained in 1998 that for decades, the Religious Right had already promoted a conspiracy theory that Christianity is under attack by "secular humanists."

   

The idea that a coordinated campaign by "secular humanists" was aimed at displacing Christianity as the moral bedrock of America actually traces back to a group of Catholic ideologues in the 1960s. It was Protestant evangelicals, especially fundamentalists, who brought this concept into the public political arena and developed a plan to mobilize grassroots activists as foot soldiers in what became known as the Culture Wars of the 1980s....

    The idea of a conscious and coordinated conspiracy of secular humanists has been propounded in various ways by a variety of national conservative organizations and individuals.

The late D. James Kennedy offered a characteristic use of the term:

"God forbid that we who were born into the blessings of a Christian America should let our patrimony slip like sand through our fingers and leave to our children the bleached bones of a godless secular society. But whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: God has called us to engage the enemy in this culture war."

Here is Romney's April 3rd dog whistle in Wisconsin:  

"I think there is in this country a war on religion. I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America known as secularism."

"They gave it a lot of thought and they decided to say that in this country that a church -- in this case, the Catholic Church -- would be required to violate its principles and its conscience and be required to provide contraceptives, sterilization and morning after pills to the employees of the church."

"Those of us who are people of faith recognize this is -- an attack on one religion is an attack on all religion."

Don Byrd, the blogger at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, challenges Romney's claim:

Actually, churches and houses of worship are explicitly exempt from the coverage requirement, and President Obama  announced his intention that the final rule should likewise exempt religious organizations that object to the mandate on religious grounds. HHS has asked for public comment on how best to accommodate the views of religious organizations like schools and hospitals while providing women with access to effective health care. How can that be a national religion of secularism?

Of course, a rule that makes such sweeping exemptions can hardly be called an attack on religious freedom or the establishment of a "religion of secularism," whatever that is.

When Romney and Santorum claim that president Obama, or anyone else, is trying to foist a religion of secularism on America, their audience hears something like what D. James Kennedy said without any need for elaboration.  It has been stated so many times in so many ways as the fundamental battle of our time. If there is a culture war, this is what it is about.  When you hear about the "war on Christmas" this is what it is about. There is no more crass, calculated, or profound a pander to the Religious Right than when Mitt Romney claims that minor federal rule making constitutes an effort to establish a "religion of secularism."




Display:
When I can confront folk using Secular when they are meaning Atheist; I try and point that out, as Chess is secular in that everyone plays by the same rules and your religion does not give your bishops extra powers, nor do you play without bishops if you religion does not happen to have them.

Unfortunately that does not work in situations such as you note where there is no chance to deconstruct what is said. But under that situation Secular is almost a minor contested concept. Some are nearly humorous like calling a person a thug for having an opinion, but watching Romney use Nurturing and Freedom dozens of times in a speech and never meaning what I would mean by it is quite scary.

Unless those concepts are all contested frequently the fake definition becomes the commonplace one, and we drift closer to an Orwellian World that that the vast majority (even on the other side) would not want. George Lakoff has been a voice in the wilderness trying to make this point for years.

by FreeDem on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 07:02:32 AM EST

Hope it is OK if I use it?
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 12:17:29 PM EST
Parent
Who knows what malicious detail he'll add to your construct?! H-he might use it to win in checkers or sumpin'!

by trog69 on Sat Apr 07, 2012 at 02:16:45 AM EST
Parent


In fact in Russia the bishop's piece is called 'slon' or 'elephant' which is a throwback to its importation from India. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishop_(chess)

by zowie on Sat Apr 07, 2012 at 09:00:55 AM EST
Parent


Thanks, Frederick, for posting this. It's thought-provoking. As we engage with the religious right, however, I think it's important for us to understand where they are coming from.

America has changed tremendously over the last 50 years, and religious right is not completely unjustified in feeling like their value system is under attack. They see the sexual revolution, Roe v. Wade, the end of school prayer, the break-down of the nuclear family, the removal of creationism from the classroom, the removal of the ten commandments from public buildings, the change from "Christmas Vaction" to "Winter Break" on school calendars, and the legalization of medicinal marijuana and same-sex marriage as examples of how their value system is losing ground to some other value system. They call it "secularism." And it's not hard to understand why they think of that value system as a belief system. They see this "other belief system" has consisting of a set of shared values, social norms, heroes, and even a creation story.

Our challenge, I think, is not to dismiss their rhetoric, but to engage with them in a way that brings down the volume. We don't need to fight fire with fire. We'll have better success by fighting fire with water. By that I mean we need to understand why they feel attacked and then help them see that there are no monsters hiding under the bed. There is no grand conspiracy to silence religion.

The problem is that none of them read this website! And the news sources that they rely on seem to be more concerned with fanning the flames of a percieved culture war than looking for reasonable ways for people of differing viewpoints to live together.

by dscribner on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 06:38:50 PM EST


WWW Talk To Action


On Christmas Day, in the Morning
In recent years at Christmastime, I have posted a response to the preposterous-but-malevolent claims broadcast on Fox News and elsewhere that there is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Hallelujah, Mike Huckabee, Hallelujah
Fox News personality Mike Huckabee had a defining moment in the wake of the Newtown massacre. One that as we enter the 2016 presidential......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Moses And Michele: Departing Member Of Congress Spreads More Misinformation
The Religious Right's Moses fixation continues to grow.As you might recall, the Texas State Board of Education recently demanded social studies textbooks that highlight......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
Christian Right Silent about Bob Jones U Sex Abuse Report
One of the deep scandals of our time, and apparently times past, is that sex abuse, particularly of children, has been so tolerated and......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Boot These Bigoted Bans: Movement Seeks To Remove Anti-Atheist Bias From State Constitutions
Eight states still have provisions in their constitutions that either bar atheists outright from holding public office or require people to believe certain things......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)
James Madison and Tax-Supported Chaplains
In light of former Sen. Rick Santorum's recent silly declaration that “the words ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the U.S. Constitution,......
By Chris Rodda (0 comments)
Death to Obama; Death to "Homos"; What's Next?
When the Obama administration was young, threats against the president were common, and sometimes quite public. One notorious such incident was that of Rev.......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Rick Scarborough's America
When Stand Up Sunday was convened by Mike Huckabee in Houston it was to feature the leading spokesmen for the Religious Right agenda.  The......
By wilkyjr (0 comments)
The Republican Diversity Program... Is Working
I don't usually write directly about electoral politics, but sometimes I bring an outsider's perspective to how the inside looks to some of the......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
American Christian Right Leaders in Rome
The remarkable and growing alliance between conservative Catholicism and protestant evangelicalism was on prominent display at a recent event at the Vatican. My colleague......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Religious Supremacism on the Rise Against Marriage Equality
This is a crosspost of an op-ed I recently published at LGBTQ Nation.  -- FC Christian right undermines marriage equality with religious supremacism FREDERICK......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
The Author of Loathing Lincoln Explains Why Some on the Christian Right Loathe Lincoln
One under-reported result of the 2014 elections was the rise of Neo-Confederate politics in the U.S. This included the election of unabashed apologist for......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
A Catholic Theocracy Grows in Florida
Catholic Right pizza mogul Tom Monaghan and his Ave Maria School of Law are back in the news.  Journalist Eleanor Bader has a new......
By Frederick Clarkson (6 comments)
Mississippi Madness: Group Wants To Designate An Official Religion
A group in Mississippi is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to change the state constitution in several ways.The proposal put forth by the......
By Rob Boston (5 comments)
I Stand Sunday Part 2
I Stand Sunday took place in Houston, Nov. 2, 2014, motivated by the cities' mayor who subpoenaed sermons from local pastors.  The host church......
By wilkyjr (1 comment)

Charles Taze Russell and John Hagee
No doubt exists that Texas mega-church Pastor John Hagee would be loathe to be associated with the theology of Pastor C.T. Russell (wrongly credited with founding the Jehovah's Witnesses) but their theological orbits, while......
COinMS (0 comments)
A death among the common people ... imagination.
Or maybe my title would better fit as “Laws, Books, where to find, and the people who trust them.”What a society we've become!The wise ones tell us over and over how the more things......
Arthur Ruger (0 comments)
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI
This is part 6 of a series by guest front pager Mahanoy, originally dated November 15, 2007 which I had to delete and repost for technical reasons. It is referred to in this post,......
Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (2 comments)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (5 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (4 comments)
Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Yes, that's right. We have totally lost our religious freedom in Mississippi and it must be restored by our legislators. ......
COinMS (1 comment)
Bill Gothard accused of harassing women and failing to report child abuse
Surprised no one's mentioned this, but one of the longest-standing leaders of the religious right is in a world of trouble.  Bill Gothard has been active in the fundie movement for over half......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
Eugene Delgaudio may lose his day job as Virginia county supervisor
Surprised no one's noticed this, but one of the nation's most virulent homophobes is in a fight to keep his day job.  Eugene Delgaudio is best known as the head of Public Advocate......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents
This caught me by surprise. I guess times are a changin in Dixieland. ------------------------------------- Cross posted from the HRC blog. Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents January 21,......
COinMS (0 comments)
Robert Knight: Running against evolution could potentially be a winner for the GOP
In one of the starkest instances yet of how far gone the religious right is, one of its leading activists thinks that he's found another potential wedge issue that could drive more people into......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
First Catholic official convicted in child sex abuse scandal has conviction overturned
Last year, Monsignor William Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's secretary for clergy, was convicted of reassigning a priest whom he knew had molested a young boy to a parish that had a school attached......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Quotes From Sarah Palin 'War on Christmas" Book v. Quotes From 1920s Anti-Jewish Propaganda
The point of this comparison is not to cast Sarah Palin as a Nazi. Rather, my intent is to underline uncomfortable similarities between contemporary "war on Christmas" talking points propagated by elements of the......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
Francis sets up commission on how to deal with pedophile priests
Late yesterday Pope Francis announced--apparently after some prodding--that he will set up a panel to advise him on how to deal with child abuse by priests. The announcement was a forthright acknowledgment by the......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.