based on the Preface, Introduction and chapters 1-4 of Ian Haney López's Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.     How did Ronald Reagan use the dog whistle?

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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...

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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.

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Ronald Reagan used "dog whistle politics," or coded racist appeals to white voters, when he campaigned for President. He used the word "crime" to refer to supposedly dangerous people of color, and, once in office, he began to crack down on crime by changing the criminal justice system. During his administration, he directed the Department of Justice to put less emphasis on cracking down on white-collar crime and to direct their resources to fighting the "War on Drugs." He increased funding at the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency to fight drug-related crime while decreasing funding for the treatment of drug abuse.

Reagan also challenged the welfare system and created the myth of a "welfare queen" who lived well on public handouts. In this myth, African American women ripped off white taxpayers. In other words, white people had to part with their hard-earned money to support larcenous African American people.

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The term "dog whistle" is used in Mr. Lopez's book as a metaphor for saying one thing that is audible to everyone, but in reality suggesting an unheard castigation of a racial group which those particularly addressed will hear. During his tenure as president, Lopez contends, President Ronald Reagan employed this strategy of "dog whistle politics" using such terms as "welfare queens," "strapping young bucks," and "states' rights." 

In his effort to reduce federal spending, President Reagan sought to trim down certain government programs such as the welfare programs using similar methods that he had successfully employed as governor of California. One effort that Reagan made was that of seeking to eliminate fraud that existed in this program. When he spoke on this topic, Reagan employed what Lopez terms "dog whistle politics." For, he spoke during his campaign in 1980 of "welfare queens" who abused the system so much that they were driving Cadillacs and wearing fur coats. [This is a rather generalized reference to women such as African-American Linda Taylor who used 80 aliases and amassed a tax-free $150,000 a year.] Less subtly, he criticized the amount afforded people on food stamps when he alluded to "strapping young bucks" who purchased T-bone steaks with their food stamps. 

According to Lopez, with these "dog whistles" Reagan tapped into the same technique used by George Wallace and Richard Nixon. In fact, like Wallace, Lopez further contends, Reagan spoke of states' rights with more than its denotation evident in his phrase. While Reagan did believe in reducing the power of the federal government and restoring more autonomy to the individual states, it could not be overlooked that he used this phrase when he addressed a crowd during his 1980 presidential campaign in Neshoba County, Mississippi, which is only seven miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town associated with the murder of civil rights workers in 1964.

 

 

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