The myth of Conservative “Dog-Whistle Politics” – Update



Events over the last weekend, whereby Australia’s political establishment went into overdrive to avoid calling an Islamic inspired terrorist attack an Islamic inspired terrorist attack, provide a good opportunity to revisit this XYZ article from June 24, 2015. It dissects the left’s charge of racism whenever anybody, whether they be from the left, right or the middle of the political spectrum, attempts to speak plainly about the facts with regards to immigration, terrorism, and/or Islam:

The farce on Q&A on Monday night provides a good opportunity to examine an article of faith to “progressives.”  This article of faith helps them maintain their cognitive dissonance on the issue of terrorism and human trafficking.  “Dog-whistle racism” is often referred to by the left whenever a conservative speaks common sense on these matters. The charge is that while avoiding saying anything overtly racist, a political message can resonate with people’s “unconscious racism.”

Regarding immigration, when conservatives highlight the need for orderly immigration to maintain broad support for its size and scope, “progressives” seize on this as code for; “We know you are afraid of black and brown people, so we will make sure fewer of them have the chance to come here.” It is as though the broad desire to keep the intake of new people in to this country orderly, could not possibly be a genuine, reasonable view. This blindness is a product of viewing the history and nature of Australia as grounded in racism, theft and exploitation. If instead you view it as a mix of tremendous achievements, awful mistakes, with an ultimately positive legacy, you will understand the need to keep immigration orderly, to protect both your country’s sovereignty and its character.

imageAn idea even more remote to “progressives” is that this desire could be based on genuine humanitarianism. The more orderly the immigration, the less people who drown just off our coast, and the more people we can help. This is exactly what happened under Howard government- Australia had the highest immigration and refugee intake it ever had- and it is now highly like that the intake will be able to increase again.

It has been written on these pages before and it deserves repeating:

“It is mind-boggling that those who call for “compassion” and “mercy” for refugees can advocate a policy which causes them nothing but abject suffering, and the policy which they decry as “racist” and a crime against humanity is the policy which helps refugees the most.”

With regard to terrorism, “progressives” love to be very selective about how they present and downplay it. Take this extract from an article which appeared on The Drum yesterday:

“Scared and angry enough yet? Sufficiently distracted from climate change, from the stalled economy, from the 45 women violently killed by men in Australia so far this year? Is your attention entirely fixed on terror (that existential threat which in 2015 has killed precisely zero Australians)?

“Fear, as Dee Madigan succinctly put it on Q&A last night, sells. It particularly sells for governments, because people don’t like to change governments when they’re scared. And how is it sold to us? By the constant turning of the screw.”

This ignores the fact that the Islamic State is committing genocide and ethnic cleansing in Iraq and Syria against anybody who is not a Sunni Muslim. Some of the oldest Christian communities in Iraq and Syria, dating back nearly 2000 years, are effectively “finished.”  In December, Man Honis murdered two Australians in the Martin Place siege and several more have been foiled this year.  The Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January is the most notorious to occur in the West in recent years, but this pales in comparison with the hell occurring outside our sanitised borders.

One of the key factors in the increase in worldwide refugee numbers has been the role of the Islamic State across the Middle East and North Africa. Europe is buckling under an unprecedented number of refugees. Even more tragic is the staggering number of refugees who have drowned in the process. The cause for this is two-fold; the “luring of migrants to their deaths” in the form of guaranteed residency or government assistance to those who come to Europe, regardless of how they arrived; and the power vacuums into which the Islamic State has been able to take root, triggering refugee crises and giving the people smugglers a free hand.

imageThe straw man of the dog whistle is insulting and victim-blaming for several reasons. It ignores the fact that many Australians who back strong border protection and a tough stance against terrorism have an intimate understanding of global politics. It is insulting to the victims of terror across the Western world, attributing their deaths to just “random” violence by mentally ill “lone wolves.” And it is insulting to the hundreds of thousands of victims who are forced to flee their homelands, to die in the desert, drown in the Mediterranean, or be subjected to the limbo of refugee camps. There is no doubt that terrorism poses or posed an existential threat to the Christians of Mosul, to the Yazidis of Mount Sinjar, or the Kurds of Kobane.

This complexity is lost on those who argue that the right are playing the politics of fear. One is reminded of the brilliant lines from the film Donnie Darko:

Donnie: Life isn’t that simple. I mean who cares if Ling Ling returns the wallet and keeps the money? It has nothing to do with either fear or love.

Kitty Farmer: Fear and love are the deepest of human emotions.

Donnie: Okay. But you’re not listening to me. There are other things that need to be taken into account here. Like the whole spectrum of human emotion. You can’t just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else!

Ironically the left is so dogged regarding the right’s use of the “dog-whistle” that it believes its own BS. This was no more apparent than at the last election, when a desperate Labor government thought that the only way they could win was to try a bit of dog-whistle politics themselves.  For example, the fuss Gillard made over abuses of the 457 Visas for foreign workers. Even before it was revealed that the entire episode was a beat-up, Australians recognised it and rejected it as a xenophobic tactic.

Similarly, Rudd employed clumsy and out of character language on asylum seekers:

“From now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees.”

He may have felt that using such strong language may enamour him with the Australian people, but his assumption that Australians would respond positively to implied racism backfired for three reasons:

1) Australians are not racist,

2) He was reimplementing Coalition policy which he had originally been responsible for dismantling,

3) The Australian people did not trust Labor to have the courage of conviction to navigate the difficult moral map, nor the political will to carry out the difficult decisions required, to make such a policy work.

There is thus an important distinction between when a conservative and a progressive talk tough on these issues.  Conservatives strongly believe in the sanctity of national sovereignty, and they understand the dilemmas involved in making tough decisions and imposing unquestionably harsh rules in order to save lives.  Progressives, on the other hand, give the impression that they are mouthing things they don’t really believe in, but they know they must say in order to remain viable.  This is why they think we are being racist- because deep down, they are cynical toward the idea of strong borders, of the nation itself.  Their ideology places a sense of guilt over everything that makes them who they are, so they have no concept of being able to stand up and defend unequivocally their nation, or themselves.

The ultimate lesson from all of this is that Australians have a common sense understanding of the difficult decisions necessary to protect our national sovereignty and national security. Australians don’t respond positively to racism.  Above all, we are utterly repulsed by the thought that we can be pushed into supporting despicable policies by manipulating racism or the politics of fear.

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David has studied history and political science at Melbourne University. His thesis was written on how the utilisation of Missile Defence can help to achieve nuclear disarmament. His interest in history was piqued by playing a flight simulator computer game about the Battle of Britain, and he hopes to one day siphon the earnings from his political writings into funding the greatest prog-rock concept album the world has ever seen.