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Saturday, October 22, 2016

A quick lesson in political language.

In 1958, Democrat George Wallace, running as a candidate for governor of Alabama and racially moderate enough to be endorsed by the NAACP, was swamped by a strident white supremacist whose campaign played shamelessly to the basest hatreds of the electorate. Afterward, Wallace complained bitterly to a room full of fellow politicians that the other guy had “out-n—-red me.” And he vowed he would never let it happen again.

As history knows, of course, he never did.

But the point here is that, 10 years later, the social and political landscape had changed so dramatically that no serious politician would have ever thought of using such intemperate language so openly. Mind you, they were not above making appeals to base animosities, but the language became benign and opaque, a “dog whistle” pitched for those with ears to hear.

Thus, Nixon had no need to curse unruly militants and longhairs. He simply spoke of “law and order.” Reagan didn’t call anyone a lazy N-word. He spoke of “welfare queens.” The Bushes didn’t have to slur gay people. They spoke of “family values.”

But for some of us, it appears coded language is no longer enough.

“We have a problem in this country,” said a man in the audience last week during a Q&A session with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump in New Hampshire. “It’s called Muslims.” He went on to ask, “When can we get rid of (them)?”

Trump’s flaccid response: “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things.”

Nor is that even the most appalling recent bit of Islamophobia from the campaign trail. That dishonor goes to Ben Carson, who said Sunday on Meet the Press that no Muslim should be president. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” he said. “I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Later, facing a firestorm of criticism, Carson told Sean Hannity of Fox “News” that he would accept a Muslim who rejects Islam “and clearly will swear to place our Constitution above their religion.” Given that “our” Constitution explicitly forbids a religious litmus test for elective office, that hypothetical Muslim should respond to Carson as follows: You first.

In tacitly endorsing bigotry on the one hand and enthusiastically embracing it on the other, Trump and Carson provide redundant proof that they are manifestly unfit for the presidency. One is sobered, however, by the renewed reminder that such bigotry no longer automatically disqualifies them from it. Indeed, experience suggests that some people will even see it as the sign of authentic truth-telling unencumbered by political correctness.

Make no mistake: Every adult American who uses language — and particularly, those who do so for a living — has at one point or another been bedeviled by political correctness, by the sometimes persnickety mandate to craft what you say in ways that are fair and respectful to everyone who might hear it. What Carson and Trump represent, however, is not solely about language, but about the ideas language encodes.

Which means it is ultimately about what kind of country we are and want to be.

Land of the free, except for Muslims?

With liberty and justice for all, except for Muslims?

All men are created equal, except for Muslims?

Any little girl might grow up to be president, provided she is not a Muslim?

If it is sad that some of us think that way, it is appalling that prominent aspirants to the nation’s highest office can now think that way openly. It suggests the resurgence of the America George Wallace once knew. In that America, there was no need of racial and religious double entendres.

In that America, one entendre was enough.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected])

Photo: Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during the Heritage Action for America presidential candidate forum in Greenville, South Carolina on September 18, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane

  • Dominick Vila

    Back pedaling, and clarifying the clarifications, seem to be a pre-requisite to be a Republican. I don’t know what is worse, Carson’s original statement or his convoluted clarifications. Did he volunteer for a lobotomy while practicing medicine? Anyway, having satisfied the requirement to project an illusion of inclusiveness in a party known for his exclusiveness, it is time for Carson, Rubio, and Cruz to let the “real” Republicans – whatever that is – slug it out among themselves.

  • charleo1

    In the wake of what should have been one of our Nation’s proudest moments. Like the winning of our independence, or Lincoln’s ending the institution of slavery. Or that time we took Europe back from the Fascist, when there was no one else who could. The election of an African American to our highest political office, was proof positive many argued, that as a people Americans were in fact living up to our highest standards of liberty, and justice. Ideals born of an extraordinary time, that had thru much struggle, had finally came to fruition. The notion that all of mankind, whatever their skin color, heritage, or faith, are indeed created equal. And in that sense, Barack Obama, whatever one may think of his politics, represented that promise that is so uniquely American. But in that victory, we have also seen the reemergence of those seeds of our own near destruction. Tempering our celebration with the knowledge that although we have came so far, the road is much longer, and more uncertain than we knew. And so we carry on as we have since our beginning toward that distant brighter star. For me, this is the true exceptionalism of America.

  • yabbed

    Sowing divisiveness is about the only accomplishment attributable to Republicans. That and destroying the economy are the hallmarks of the GOP. It is disgraceful how many Americans flock to these “dog whistles” of racism and misogyny and hatefulness.

    • Canistercook

      Personally I feel Obama is the ‘great divider’ – war on women – rich vs. poor – unions vs. corporations – black vs. white!

      • tomtype

        How is he making a war on women. He is upholding their rights to make their own choices. That is the essence of freedom: making your own choices. He is not out there preventing that. How is pitting rich against poor, except by taking away the right of the rich to make the choices for the poor. And Unions are again about the workers helping make some of the important decisions that will really affect them. And the same for black and white. The only choices he is taking from whites is the choices they make for blacks, but none for whites made for themselves, by themselves.
        Jesus too came to have people make their own choices,a nd acknowledged that it might burn son against father and husband against wife and brother against brother.

      • Independent1

        Great divider?? Oh Yeah! It’s Obama that has been constantly making all kinds of racist outbursts over the past 6 years- NOT!!

        War on women?? Based on what moronic assessment?? Has Obama been passing illogical legislation in state after state that allows companies to deprive women of their rights to their own bodies?? I don’t think so!!

        Rich vs Poor?? Wow!! You are clearly a moron!! Obama has been pushing to get Congress to take up reviewing our tax code for years and the GOP has been refusing. He’s push Congress to at least pass the min wage legislation help the poor and THE GOP CONGRESS HAS REFUSED!! He sent Congress to jobs bills the CBO said would create millions of jobs to help those struggling to get by but THE GOP CONGRESS HAS REFUSED!! You’ve got your head so far up your rear end you can’t see the light of day.

        You’re going to be some really delusioned RWNJ when historians finally wake up and realize that Barack Obama has been the best president in office since at least Teddy Roosevelt and FDR.

      • dtgraham

        Yeah, if he would only ensure that women have less rights, forget the poor (pfffft), deep six the unions, and overlook the concerns of black Americans. If he would just do that. Damn that Obama.

      • Sand_Cat

        Yes, it’s not surprising that a GOP stooge such as you would blame the divisions on the guy who points them out rather than those who cause them.

  • The lucky one

    “and clearly will swear to place our Constitution above their religion.” I am all for that for each and every candidate no matter what religion they claim to believe in.

    • johninPCFL

      “to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic” is part of every Federal oath of office.

      • The lucky one

        Yes but that is not quite the same thing. But maybe your point is that they all pretty much ignore that oath so what’s the point of another one. If so I agree except that it may reveal the real zealots who would of course refuse the oath.

        • tomtype

          Or like Kim Davis who refused to follow the constitution, claiming a religious exemption. But there is a constitutional protection to how you worship, not to how you do your job.

      • Sand_Cat

        You are correct, but the GOP conveniently “interprets” the Constitution otherwise.

    • Sand_Cat

      With the qualifier that this should afftect only their actions as government officials.

      • The lucky one

        Absolutely, that is the only issue here. Private life is just that, private (well maybe not so much anymore since the patriot act and the NSA’s illegal spying on citizens).

  • RED

    Hmm.., very long article on some pretty simple points. One, Ben Carson is a moron and a bigot and two, the Republican Party is a hate group made up almost completely of morons & bigots!

  • latebloomingrandma

    Poor Dr. Carson. I guess he thought he would do a Trump and not worry what came out of his mouth. He is left explaining, of which there is no explanation but his original words. What’s baffling is that Trump could have said the same thing and watched his poll numbers rise.

    • tomtype

      Carson was trying to trump Trump. He had gained second place by his calm and reasoned approach. Dr. Carson is a member of a distinct, Christian sect. Generally they know more than mainstream groups the dangers or restricting their rights to speak and worship the way they want. Maybe he should sign a similar pledge that he will not try to impose any religious beliefs. That would of course include opposition to gay marriage, abortions, and full medical care. The reason we need to be a secular society is exactly that. The full range of services must be available. It is our personal choice to use them or not. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not, but they must be available for those who have no scruples against them. It is inhibiting their religious freedom, their freedom of association and freedom of expression if you take away their rights to those in conformity with your beliefs. I don’t see why that is so hard for some people to understand.

      • latebloomingrandma

        I agree.

  • Canistercook

    Carson made a true point, but the left wing media takes anything a GOP runner says and twists it. Too bad the media has such control over so many minds. The real question is ‘Can a truly faithful individual put governing above his or her faith?’ If Iran is an example I sure don’t want to see the same system in America! Free speech and freedom from oppression is not easily maintained.

    • tomtype

      It is that general media, which you mistakenly call the left wing media, that works to prevent exactly the sort of takeover of free speech and its suppression like in Iran. The idea of a free press, serving as they call themselves, the fourth estate, to keep and enhance personal rights and personal rights being above those of the state or of the church, is a distinctly Western viewpoint. But very much part of the process variously known as Westernization, Modernization, or Liberalism/Progress. It is among the many blessing of Liberalism.
      So, the media did not twist, but did warn of his entering a risky area, an area that will tend to take us back to the old era personified as repressive, censoring, and xenophobic, like the non-Western world that is fighting modernization. They want the wealth and power, but without the freedom and individuality.

    • Sand_Cat

      True only for his fellow bigots (like you, for example).

  • oldtack

    Ben Carson did not malign Muslims nor did he malign the Faith of Islam.
    Our Nation was not created as a Theocracy and in it’s early inception care was made to affect separation of Church and state.
    Revealing my age – you should have been here in 1959/1960 and listened to all the diatribe against John Kennedy and the roman catholic Church. The “Catholiphobes” were aghast at the possibility of a Catholic being President because The Catholic Church will use their influence and we will be under the auspices of the Church of Rome and on and on..It got volatile and sometimes a little scary. I saw two middle aged gentlemen, one a devout Catholic and the other a devout Baptist get into a physical confrontation on the workroom floor “tore thunder out of the whole area before they were separated”. All over fear of a Roman Catholic Theocracy.

    John F. Kennedy finally went on National TV on this subject. He stated that he was a devout Catholic BUT when he was engaged in State matters he left his faith “at the door” – not his exact words but his intent.

    I don’t care if you are a Muslim or a Buddhist a Jew or a Christian. If you are vieing for election as President and leader of this Nation then you “leave” your religious convictions at the door. Keep them in your private and religious life but do not let your. Faith interfere with your State duties.

    We have one Muslim and possibly two in Congress and I don’t think they use their Faith to influence Government issues nor do I think the Average Muslim would either. We walk among them in our daily lives with no fear. They are devout in their faith as we are devout in ours. They have their radical faction as do we and as do all. We let the phobia of the radicals consume us in our perception of all.

    All Carson did was say “leave your religion at the door. we are not built on a Theocracy, we observe separation of Church and State.

    Am I a Carson supporter? No. I’m not a Republican nor a Democrat either. But let keep this a good contest. Don’t get carried away by phobias or misleading words..

    • JPHALL

      But that was not his original position. His statement was that a Muslim shouldn’t be president. Now he is saying Muslims must leave their religion at the door. What about Evangelical Christians? He like many right wingers try to push their religious beliefs on others like Kim Davis is doing in Kentucky.

      • oldtack

        Horse hockey JP.
        The Media vultures asked him a question and he gave an ad- lib answer. After all the BS on ALL (Lib and conservative) He made a clarification in which he included ALL religions.

        And you ask “what about Evangelical Christians” To that I say a strong HELL NO. If you study the History of our Nation you will find more than one account of times where in certain sections that area was under Christian Law. If you read what happened to people under Christina Law you will think Sharia Law is a cake walk.

        Ben Carson reiterated in his clarification statement ALL have ot leave their religion at the door when they assume the duties of President or any Government entity.

        Agreed – there are many Right wingers that try to push their religious belief on others and in the Government. most are adamantly Overt in their action.. But, I find many with this same ideology in the Liberals ranks but the are harder to detect because they are Covert.

        As stated before – this is an interesting “campaign” and we have another coming when the Democrats begin their debates.

        Down the line only two will face off for the Presidency. Let us work together and ensure the Correct decision is made by the voters.

        No animosity intended in this post. Have a god day and keep up the good fight for our Country.

        What about Evangelical Christians? He was inclusive on ANY Religion.

        • JPHALL

          Nice post but the truth remains that he put Muslims in a different class from other religions. This is the same BS that some tried against JFK. Let’s take Carson’s advice and require all presidential candidates, not just Muslims, tosign the pledge to leave their religion at the door of the Oval Office. Subject: Re: Comment on Quick Lesson In Political Language

          • oldtack

            I’m in complete agreement with you on that. That should be an explicit requirement.

          • Independent1

            Personally, I think all politicians should sign a pledge to keep religion out of all political campaigning and their political lives as it applies to doing their job. They should be voting and creating legislation in Congress based on what’s best for their constituents and for the country; not what’s best for their often misguided religious beliefs.

            I’m tired of hearing fake Christians who misguidedly interpret the Bible and not only spew misguided nonsense on the campaign trail, they cast votes in Congress based on their misguided religious convictions rather than what’s really best for the people they’re actually supposed to represent – and also many times what’s best for the country.

        • Sand_Cat

          Often the off-the cuff answer reveals the truth the bigot would prefer to hide.

          • oldtack

            That’s what they teach in Psychology. Most of the time it is true. I give him the benefit of the doubt in this instance but it raises my antenna. And to clarify. My defense of him by no way means I would vote for him or any republican. They leave a bad taste to me.

    • Sand_Cat

      That’s why the GOP thinks we should have a Christian theocracy. Of course Ben Carson insulted Muslims and Islam. Only other victims of discrimination like Catholics (JFK) are expected to renounce their religion publicly and promise to subordinate it to the Constitution explicitly. Otherwise, there would be a LOT fewer GOP officeholders.

  • Otto Greif

    It’s telling that Pitts thinks the phrase “family values” is a “slur” of gay people.

    • Insinnergy

      Because it is.
      Its the same as referring to “Religious Liberty” when the primary aim is to force your religious bigotry on everyone else.
      Or Hitler’s references to “Cleansing the race” meaning specifically the killing of anyone not of that race.
      Or “Voter ID Fraud” when what you actually mean is the attempt to stop poor and minorities from voting against you.
      Or “Trickle Down Economics” when what you really mean is tax breaks for the wealthy.

      You cloak your hate in a phrase describing a positive form of the exact opposite… but all the bigots or racists or donor nod and wink when the term comes up.

      Here’s one for you… I’d love to “Raise the Intellectual Level”… by banning your ignorance from this site. Get it yet?

      • Otto Greif

        Wow, Hitler, great analogy dude.

    • charleo1

      When you hear Jeb Bush talk about, “family values.” Do you think he’s talking about families with two moms, and two dads? No. He’s talking about families headed by one man who’s primary role is head of household. And one woman, who’s primary role is childcare, the home, and is subordinate to the man? You know what he means. Criminalize all abortions, or prayer in public schools.
      When Barack Obama says he supports, “family values,” we hear a living wage for struggling single moms, guaranteed access to quality healthcare for all. Or more opportunities for advancement and education in the lower incomes. Or a chance of working families to finally own their own home. What do you hear?

      • Otto Greif

        Yes, real, normal families.

        • charleo1

          It’s not about “normal,” families, Otto. Whatever was or is normal. You know the drill. It’s about divide and conquer. They’re not sending good people like you, you, or you. No, they’re sending those other such and such. It’s, “the gay agenda,” or the Muslims who want to impose Shira Law. It’s all about where the politician, fresh out of ideas, tries to turn the majority against the minority to create a rally point. But they don’t come straight out, and say that. That’s why it’s called code, or a dog whistle politics. Not in so many words, but so long as you still know the score. Who they’re talking about, and exactly what they’re saying about them.

    • Independent1

      And one of the NM’s great morons speaks again!! Why don’t you just get lost!!!!!!

    • Sand_Cat

      Yes, VERY telling about those hypocrites who are always blathering about “family values” while their political actions are more reminiscent of totalitarianism and repression in the name of uniformity.
      It’s even more telling that you seem not to have detected this.

  • dtgraham

    Hasn’t this been done before? Roman Catholics were supposed to be unfit for office in 1960 because it was thought that America would be ruled from Rome.