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Put Puppy-Whistle Politics On A Leash

Campaign 2016 Featured Post Memo Pad

Put Puppy-Whistle Politics On A Leash

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton introduced by U.S. Representative Rangel for address in Harlem in New York City

In politics, the “dog whistle” is coded language designed to delight a targeted subgroup and pass over the heads of everyone else. Other terms, such as “establishment,” “Washington insider” and “free trade,” are not quite full-grown dog whistles. Let’s call them puppy whistles.

These are expressions whose meanings remain vague. For the puppy whistle, the vaguer the better.

Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders rail against “the establishment.” This is a way of saying that they are not favored by the traditional leaders of their parties — the leaders said to have let us down.

“Establishment” is hard to define, and when you do, it’s sometimes carries positive feelings. Who among us wouldn’t be impressed by a plumber’s ad reading, “The Wrench Brothers, Established in 1971”?

On the left, “the establishment” is itself a highly established term. It gained steam in the 1960s as a designation for the adults who messed things up for us kids. Sanders uses it as pure pejorative.

When Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Fund endorsed Hillary Clinton, Sanders responded, “Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time, and some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment.”

Clinton’s unfortunate comeback was that no one would be less establishment than the first woman president.

Harvard political scientist Danielle Allen then wrote a piece in The Washington Post titled, “Sorry, Hillary: You are the establishment.” She never explains why, uh, Hillary should be sorry for that — or more basically, why being part of the establishment is necessarily bad. The National Audubon Society has been around for 111 years. Is that any reason to hold it in low regard?

Allen offers this line: “Bernie Sanders is right that Clinton’s long list of endorsements represents her muscle within the Democratic Party.” That may be so, but if President Obama had that kind of muscle, we’d probably now have a government-run public option on the federal health insurance marketplace.

“Washington insider” is a puppy whistle favored by populists across the spectrum. It’s No. 2 on the right’s list of condemnations (after liberal).

The coded meaning is that long-time Washington politicians become servants of lobbyists. It really shouldn’t matter how long a politician has worked in Washington but rather what the politician has done in Washington.

“Free trade” has long held negative meaning for populists in both parties. The left continues to use NAFTA — the North American Free Trade Agreement — as almost a curse word, as the cause of devastating losses among our manufacturing workers. But how many sweatshirts in your closet were made in Mexico? Go into Home Depot and see where the hammers, screws and lighting fixtures come from.

On the Republican side, Trump rails against Chinese imports. At least he knows where most of those jobs have gone.

The consensus among economists is that NAFTA provided modest benefits for the U.S., as well as for Mexico and Canada. Some American jobs did move to Mexico, but many would have otherwise gone to Asia. The remedy for victims of globalization is not to stop the unstoppable but to strengthen their social safety net.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the new trade boogeyman. Its purpose is to strengthen America’s hand in dealing with China, but that gets lost in the political discourse.

Trade agreements tend to be a mixed bag in terms of who benefits. They are not inherently evil. Likewise, so-called political establishments and Washington insiders should be judged by what they do, rather than what they are. But gray is an unpopular color in campaign season.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Hillary Clinton is introduced by U.S. Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) (L) as she is applauded by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (back L) and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (back R) for her address at the The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in the Harlem section of New York City, February 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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  1. Dominick Vila February 18, 2016

    Trade agreements, and trade in general, is far from being evil. Trade has contributed to prosperity, integration, and a better cultural understanding throughout the history of mankind. The problem for us is that most trade agreements are influenced by what is best for a country, or the business community, rather than individual citizens. We benefit indirectly, but we seldom see those benefits in a way we understand or accept.

    1. Theodora30 February 18, 2016

      And the media rarely bothers to give an objective analysis of the effects – both positive and negative. We just get a lot of “he said/she said”. And there is rarely follow up on enforcement, or lack of it.

  2. charleo1 February 18, 2016

    The author failed to point out, perhaps space constraints, that the word, the label, “establishment,” has two completely different connotations. For the Left Wing of the Democratic Party it connotes the strong opinion that the Democratic Party itself has for years allowed itself to be dragged to the Right. As Reagan surely moved the Right further Right from Nixon, a moderate Southern Democrat, Clinton that followed, repealed much of Wall Street’s post depression legislation, cut the social safety net, ignoring the plight of millions still in need of Johnson’s Great Society antipoverty programs. And proclaimed the era of big Gov. is over. Bill Clinton has became for the Left in the post Bush era the “Democratic Establishment.” The, Blue dog,” Democrats, that voted in favor of an outrageously radical tax regimen in 2001-2003. The most regressive tax policy since Reagan’s. That was as prohibitively expensive, as it was embarrassingly generous to the wealthy. The 17 Democratic Senators that voted along with every Republican in the Senate in favor of the Bush Tax Cuts, are the face of the Democratic Establishment Burnie Sanders is using as a perforative description of what he will oppose as President. Giving a totally manipulated dunce of a President the authority to invade a country that posed no threat to us, that had played no part in the 9/11 attacks, is another example of what many Democrats see as a spineless capitulation to an extremist Right Wing agenda, they were sent to Washington with a mandate to prevent. Those are the not so puppy whistle incantations of the Occupy, and Black Lives Matter Movements, that are playing out in the Democratic nomination processes as we speak. Those, “establishment politicians,” Burnie is speaking of are as corrupted as any T-Bagging, Koch hugging, Right Winger by special interest money. Where an increasing number on the Left are wondering , and worrying about, the E word, when it comes to Hillary Clinton.

  3. dtgraham February 18, 2016

    She could have shortened that story a lot. Here’s the Coles notes version: Please don’t refer to Hillary by a term like establishment because that’s a pejorative you know. Anyway, some of Hillary’s establishment positions are good for us, right?

    Brought to you by the National — don’t vote for Bernie Sanders — Memo.


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