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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

McCain’s Dog Whistles

There’s a front-page story by Krissah Williams in today’s Washington Post that focuses on Democratic women who say they’d rather see John McCain become president than vote for Barack Obama, mainly due to anger over perceived insults to Hillary Clinton during the nominating process.
Any of you who happen to fall into the category of feminists-for-McCain should give a gander to a new article by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker slicing and dicing a recent speech by the putative Republican nominee that represented an extended dog whistle to anti-choicers and other cultural conservatives regarding judicial appointments.
Toobin begins by noting that McCain’s May 6 speech at Wake Forest University was timed to draw extremely limited attention from the news media and the public at large. Moreover, Mr. Straight Talk’s pithy remarks were loaded with code language explicable only to lawyers and to conservatives obsessed with the supposed liberal conspiracy to use the courts to destroy faith, family and country. Aside from the usual stuff about “activist judges” and “separation of powers” (the latter being pretty rich at a time when the primary threat to the separation of powers is coming from the Bush administration), you’ve got an oblique reference to a Supreme Court decision that laid the constitutional groundwork for Roe v. Wade, and another oblique reference to an opinion by Justice Kennedy that conservatives love to cite as evidence that the Court is determined to extinguish U.S. sovereignty.
Here’s the money quote from Toobin:

Might [McCain] really be a “maverick” when it comes to the Supreme Court? The answer, almost certainly, is no. The Senator has long touted his opposition to Roe, and has voted for every one of Bush’s judicial appointments; the rhetoric of his speech shows that he is getting his advice on the Court from the most extreme elements of the conservative movement. With the general election in mind, McCain had to express himself with such elaborate circumlocution because he knows that the constituency for such far-reaching change in our constellation of rights is small, and may be shrinking. In 2004, to stoke turnout among conservatives, Karl Rove engineered the addition of anti-gay-marriage voter initiatives to the ballots in Ohio and other states; last week, though, when the California Supreme Court voted to allow gay marriage in that state, only hard-core activists were able to muster much outrage. When it comes to the Constitution, McCain is on the wrong side of the voters, and of history; thus, his obfuscations.

It’s been obvious for a while that John McCain’s presidential ambitions depend on maintaining the exaggerated and ephemeral reputation for “moderation” and “independence” bestowed on him by the news media in 2000, while quietly reassuring conservative activists that he’s their man. That’s why exposing the dishonesty and implicit extremism of McCain maneuvers like his Wake Forest speech are important. And it’s also why Hillary Clinton supporters who think it makes sense to help McCain become president are actually in danger of betraying everything the New York Senator stands for.

4 comments on “McCain’s Dog Whistles

  1. KJordan on

    I consider myself a hardcore feminist and I do believe certain men in the news media have said nasty and unnecessary things about Hillary. I also get irritated when Obama calls women “sweetie”. My name is not now nor has it ever been “sweetie”. When he calls a woman sweetie, he is discounting her and every other woman who has worked hard to be taken seriously in work and in politics.
    All that said, though, there has never been a moment in this whole campaign where I ever ONCE considered voting for a Republican.
    McCain’s voting record speaks for itself.
    The women who have decided to vote for McCain over Obama are not true Democrats and should stop pretending they are.

  2. Badger on

    I won’t be voting for Obama, period. If he’s the nominee, I’ll either vote for myself or write in Hillary.
    This campaign season really showed the contempt the party leaders have for women. Why should I reward that? Sorry, but you are going to have to earn my vote from now on.

  3. edkilgore on

    Hmmm. Haven’t heard that line of “reasoning,” but what I have heard, a lot, is the idea that we happen to have a relatively unobjectionable GOP nominee this year, so it’s “safe” to defect or stay home to make a point about the nominating contest. The fact that most of the sexist crap about HRC is emanating from McCain supporters rather than Obama supporters gets lost in the weeds.
    You had a lot of the same “reasoning” in 2000, not just among eventual Nader voters, but among Democrats who voted for Gore but didn’t go out of their way to do anything else, on the theory that the major party candidates weren’t terribly different. That sure as hell turned out to be mistaken judgment.
    Thanks for the comment.
    Ed Kilgore

  4. David in Nashville on

    I’m not sure that postings like this will faze the feminists-against-Obama. They actually regard arguments like this as “threats”–as in, if they don’t support the presumptive Democratic candidate, his supporters will retaliate by losing the election. I’ve actually seen that sort of reasoning out there.


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