Lopez describes "dog whistles" as "coded racial appeals that carefully manipulate hostility toward nonwhites" (ix). The deployment of this political tactic, Lopez argues, is central to the rise of modern conservatism (the book was written during the Obama presidency). Ronald Reagan's election is cited as a key moment in the rise of "dog whistles" in our political discourse. These racial appeals were crucial in the election of Richard Nixon. Lee Atwater, a key Reagan advisor, admitted in an interview that he employed them explicitly in the presidential campaign in an attempt to attract Southern voters:
By 1968, you can't say "n----r"—that hurts you. So you say stuff like forced busing, states rights, and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract, and you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites (57).
What was different about Reagan, Lopez argues, is that unlike Nixon, who was really a moderate who simply used racial demagoguery to get elected, Reagan's policies actually matched his rhetoric. "For Reagan," Lopez says, "conservatism and racial resentment were inextricably fused" (57). Lopez argues that his policies as well as his rhetoric against so-called "welfare queens" were "elbow deep" in the politics of white identity. His presidency is most significant for having mainstreamed the ideas of right-wing think tanks who embraced the antipathy for government action, especially regulatory and tax policies, which they saw as socialistic. The problem, Lopez argues, was that many working-class whites favored these policies. Appealing to the racial resentments of these white people, especially through painting welfare as a wasteful and corrupt program that benefited only blacks, was a way to gain support for these policies. Many whites viewed the expansion of government benefits to blacks (whites themselves had benefited from the New Deal of the 1930s) in the 1960s as an infringement on their liberties. Reagan appealed to these racial attitudes to embark on a mission of cutting these programs.