Why Do the GOP’s New Dogwhistles Sound So Familiar? [Reader Forum]

Colorlines.com readers discuss the GOP's latest efforts to control our conversation on race and gender.

By Channing Kennedy Mar 05, 2012

Every week seems to have another national headline about some under-the-radar Republican getting caught forwarding a racist-joke email. Last week, it was Richard Cebull, a federal judge in Montana, with a particularly vulgar line about Barack Obama’s late mother.

It’s easy to roll our eyes, send five dollars to the offender’s opposition, and wait for a new generation of politicians who know how a "forward" button works. But, as our editor Kai Wright said on Friday, Cebull’s impressively frank non-apology illustrates something important about the GOP in 2012:

[…] in this case, Cebull’s gross joke is less significant than his explanation for it.

"I can obviously understand why people would be offended," Cebull has acknowledged. Rather than obfuscate on the racist content, he offered this explanation for why he’d forward something he knew to be offensive: "I didn’t send it as racist, although that’s what it is. I sent it out because it’s anti-Obama."

And there you have it. His response illuminates the tragic story of today’s Republican Party: It stands for nothing. The formerly Grand Old Party has devolved into a small, petty affair defined by a thoughtless defense of greed, the cynical deployment of xenophobia and a blind hatred of Barack Obama.

And on Tuesday, our Gender Matters columnist Akiba Solomon pointed out how the Southern Strategy is still alive; if anything, more and more bigotry is being dressed up as economics and states’ rights.

I sincerely hope that the surge of sometime GOP presidential frontrunner Rick Santorum will clear up a few things about how race and gender justice aren’t two different issues. […] Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, et. al. won’t come out and say, "Eff bitches, get money." They’ll just throw darts at so-called Obamacare, and trip over each other to prove how conservative they are on the backs of poor, uninsured and underemployed women who rely on low-cost reproductive healthcare, including birth control.

As I always say, women of color are going to pay the steepest price for this new-old strategy. And that, ultimately, is the point, isn’t it?

So why haven’t these old, destructive strategies been put to rest yet–and how effective will they prove to be as the presidential campaign moves forward? Here’s what you had to say.


Are these rethugs dogwhistling to each other about white women’s low birthrates? Maybe feeling a little anxious about controlling women they consider "theirs"? The main theme they stress for women of color is our dangerous, disturbing, demographic-changing sexuality and fertility. But now, white women are acting all up and don’t want to have babies.

crystal evans:

One thing Santorum does not want to realize is that a lot of Catholic women use contraceptives. I have friends who were strong Catholics who had no problems using the pill. He does not realize that many Catholics pick and choose to follow what the church tells them to do.


You know what conservative status-quo keepers covered up with such expertise? That women’s rights are human rights. That rights for people of color are human rights. That LGBT rights are human rights. That immigrant rights are human rights. If one group of people are oppressed, then everyone is oppressed because it means we live in an unjust society.

Tai Miller:

All of those things are true but I think it’s also partly a backlash against the gains made in gay rights. Gay people getting married really makes them angry, almost as angry as a black man in the white house.

2gether4vr argues that the specifics of the case at hand aren’t so clear-cut, in an in-depth comment that I’m excerpting here:

[…] To the church, indirect payment by the insurance company is still participation by the church in something antithetical to their moral teaching. The Bill of Rights was written for exactly that reason: to protect us from the government trampling our basic rights and liberties.

There are no human rights being denied here. But there is a government trampling the religious freedoms guaranteed by the first amendment. POTUS has said to the church that they will comply within a year, or the government will act with impunity by enforcing a fine. So what options are left for the hierarchy of the church? Violate their moral code? Stop insuring employees altogether? Hire only those who have the same moral teaching or pay the fine? Not much of a choice and certainly not a compromise.

You are absolutely right. This has become a political football and it never should have. Our country has fallen off the track. Politics is destroying all of us. Unfortunately you will see that even before this administration took office, Bush’s passing of the Patriot Act and the recent additions to that have stripped many other rights away from Americans with regard to privacy […]

From the comments on Kai’s op-ed, here’s CUNY law professor and Colorlines.com contributor Victor Goode:

Cebull’s blatant racism follows a well trod path of conservative jurists on issues of race. He basically argues that since his intent was simply to attack the president, the fact that even though he did it with a racist joke it still wasn’t really racist. So here’s the logic… racism isn’t really racism unless the racist says that it is. And of course he adds the equally worn "apology" to anyone who might have been offended.

So in their perverse world there’s nothing objective about racism. It all lies in the mind of the perpetrator. And if the racist says that’s not what he meant, then any racist comment is not really racism. So if the joke is racist, which the judge admits, and he passed it around to his friends, which he also admits, this spreading racism, isn’t really racist because..well because of some strange logic that would get any lawyer thrown out of his courtroom.

This is what the conservatives "post racial" America really looks like.


I agree. It doesn’t matter their fabricated intent; it is the perception of the intended object. In this case, most people of color see it for what it is — racist.

I am so tired of racists and misogynists attempting to define/create my reality. I’ve lived it so long; it’s very real to me. I’m not some sensitive overemotional unthinking black woman; I’m a survivor of years of attacks and other humiliating words of hurt. I know a skunk when I smell it.


I agree. An intent standard for anti-African racism — which many people, African and non-African, try to push — is a leap right down the rabbit hole. I personally don’t care what people’s intentions are, I don’t care what others think, and I don’t care what they mean to do — I only care about what folks do. It’s high time more of us start insisting on this standard — an effect standard — for anti-African racism.


Their "beat Obama" strategy fails because anyone with any sense sees that the man is hardworking and of strong character, which leaves them standing there looking foolish and racist. Then they turn to these divisive issues in the hopes of turning out the fringe vote, which is a strategy that seemed to work for them in ’04.

I think they do stand for something: the right of U.S. citizens to become rich. Only, that stance rarely works during a recession because the rich don’t suffer with the rest of us and end up looking like a bunch of pricks.

Lyllye Parker:

[…] To allow our public servants to pass on the kind of racist joke such as the one from this District Court Judge should remind the voting public that no matter who serves in our highest office, if you are not wealthy, white,heterosexual, christian, and male, you won’t have a chance at taking this country to the next level, no matter how brillant your ideas are.

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