Sunday, January 24, 2010
The remergence of "dog whistle" politics
In his Australia Day speech to the Australia Day Council Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has embraced the dog whistling strategy of John Howard, his political mentor, by appealing to the racist leanings of voters.
Howard was the master of "dog whistle politics" and built a number of election victories upon appeals to racially charged Australian nationalism. Abbott's speech to the Australia Day Council is a perfect example of the style of political talk that has come to be known as "dog whistling".
Dog whistling is a form of political speech that uses particular words, phrases and ideas to appeal to conscious and unconscious racist concepts and attitudes in targeted population groups. Politicians use certain words and phrases to send a sharp message which, like a dog whistle that is inaudible to humans, is heard primarily by the people at which it is aimed.
Abbott's speech is littered with phrases and ideas such as "ethnic gangs", "ethnic street crime" " lack of respect for Australian values" "illegal immigrants", "people smugglers", "borders under threat", "queue jumpers", "tough border protection". These phrases activate and engage racial stereotypes, prejudices and imagined fears in voters. In his speech Tony Abbott avoids any overtly racist terminology, often criticizing and disowning the prejudice and racist attitudes that he seeks to connect with and engage.
Here is the skill of politicians like Tony Abbott who deploy dog whistling politics- plausible deniability. They have the ability to appear reasonable and balanced and deny or deflect criticism from those critical of the prejudice and racism to which they are covertly appealing.