The Dog Whistle Defined

I’ve been ignoring Tim Pawlenty’s candidacy because the voters are. But this campaign video is worth watching purely for educational purposes. If you’ve ever wondered what the term dog whistle means, this is it:

According to Wikipedia, a dog whistle is “coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different or more specific meaning for a targeted subgroup of the audience.”

The targeted subgroup here are evangelical Christians. The general public will find the intro (where Pawlenty and his wife testify to their faith) dull but unobjectionable. The Pawlenties believe in something; good for them. Most will get bored and stop watching. But this lengthy testimony tells Evangelicals to get out their codebooks to decrypt phrases that will follow, like:

  • people of faith. If you’re a Muslim, Jew, liberal Christian, or even a Catholic, you may think you’re a person of faith. You aren’t. Evangelicals do not use people of faith in this ecumenical way. To them, the phrase is a synonym for evangelical Christian.
  • God. Similarly, you may think that the Pawlenties are talking about your God. They aren’t. If you worship somebody other than the Lord Jesus Christ (as He is envisioned by conservative Protestants), you don’t believe in God.
  • nation under God. Not the ecumenical meaning (that America is united under a larger truth rather than divided among warring sects). Instead, this means that only a government dominated by right-wing Christians is legitimate.
  • the Founders. Not the historical politicians who wrote the Constitution. The Founders are latter-day prophets who were inspired by God to create a Christian nation. They wielded a divine authority similar to Moses or St. Paul.
  • faith in the public square. Rather than every American’s right to profess his or her beliefs in public, this phrase refers to the special right of Christians to commandeer public resources to promote their religion.

So later, when Pawlenty says:

The separation of church and state was intended to protect people of faith from government, not government from people of faith. … I think the Founders of this country made it very clear: We were founded as a nation under God. … So it’s very clear what roadmap they put out for us as it relates to faith in the public square.

codebook-holders hear him agreeing that Evangelicals have inherited the prophetic authority of the Founders. America is their country, the power and resources of the government are theirs to use, and the rest of us should be grateful for their tolerance, such as it is.

Evangelicals want to hear that message from a candidate, but Pawlenty knows he’ll offend the general public if he says it in so many words. Hence the dog whistle: They hear it; you don’t.


Another dog-whistle to the Religious Right is Rick Perry’s 1-minute invitation to “The Response“, a “call to prayer for a nation in crisis”.

This event will sail under most voters’ radar, because it sounds just like the prayer breakfasts and days-of-prayer that politicians are always associating themselves with.

But true believers will hear something different. Perry has modeled the Response after what “God called the Israelites to do in the Book of Joel”. If you haven’t read Joel lately, you probably don’t realize how apocalyptic it is. Invoking Joel implies not just that America is having hard times, but that God is smiting us for our sin.

Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.

Given that the Response is hosted by the American Family Association, we can guess what that sin is: tolerance of homosexuality.

A little of that apocalyptic flavor comes through in the official Response promo video, which most voters won’t bother to watch.

And then there’s the Response’s page of “endorsers”. (The Endorser link from the home page was dropped after it started getting attention, and then the page disappeared altogether.) Chances are you’ve never heard of them, but they include some of the most dangerous religious nuts in the country.

Here Mike Bickle, for example, warns his flock about “the Harlot Babylon movement”, which is “preparing the nations to receive the Antichrist”.

I believe that one of the main pastors, as a forerunner to the Harlot movement — it’s not the Harlot movement yet — is Oprah.

Oprah is the forerunner to the forerunner to the Antichrist. Who knew?

Another official Response-endorser, C. Peter Wagner, believes that the Japanese Emperor has had sex with a Sun Goddess/Demon, and that this event had real consequences for the Japanese economy.

Since the night that the present emperor slept with the Sun Goddess, the stock market in Japan has gone down. It’s never come up since.

And of course there’s John Hagee, whose endorsement John McCain had to renounce in 2008 because of Hagee’s anti-Catholic bigotry. His picture was also up there on the Endorsers’ page.

Rachel Maddow collects more of this kind of insanity from Perry’s endorsers/allies.

It’s not clear yet how many of these people will appear on stage with Perry at the Response. But their followers know that Perry’s event is their event. You should know it too.


The Response-hosting AFA is not just ideologically conservative, it is partisan for Perry. Tuesday, the AFA’s Bryan Fischer wrote that Michele Bachmann’s migraines “make a Rick Perry candidacy both inevitable and necessary.”

Liberals, interestingly enough, are not the ones piling on this issue. “I thought Hell would freeze over before I defended Michele Bachmann,” Dana Goldstein writes.


The Texas Observer describes Perry’s connections with the New Apostolic Reformation, a movement founded by the same C. Peter Wagner. The movement’s leaders talk about “infiltrating” government because “the church’s vocation is to rule history with God.”


Contrast Pawlenty’s and Perry’s dog whistles with Herman Cain, who just lays it out there for everyone to see, as during this interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: You’re saying any community, if they want to [can] ban a mosque?

CAIN: Yes. They have a right to do that. That’s not discriminating based upon religion.

And draws this response from Minnesota’s Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison:

It’s reprehensible that [Cain] just will not relent with this bigotry and that he actually thinks it’s going to enhance his chances to get the Republican nomination. If I were a Republican, I would be outraged.

But by talking in code, Pawlenty and Perry make no headlines and leave their opponents nothing to quote.

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