Obama Sends Messages Whites Don't Hear

"Dog-whistle" politics lets prez court blacks without alienating whites
By Gabriel Winant,  Newser User
Posted Mar 3, 2009 9:44 AM CST
Spectators react as Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., works the crowd during a rally on the College of Charleston campus in Charleston, S.C., Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008.    (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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(Newser) – It’s no surprise that President Obama has a strong connection with black Americans. But how did he manage to avoid being pigeonholed Jesse Jackson-style? Nia-Malika Henderson writes in Politico that Obama uses “dog-whistle politics," employing allusions, cadences—even a swagger—that resonate with black Americans but go largely unnoticed by whites.

In January Obama referred to “American dreams that are being deferred,” a Langston Hughes reference that black audiences got without a citation. Ditto for “they try to bamboozle you”—a Malcolm X reference used during the primaries. One linguist says that even his “Yes, we can!” wouldn’t work for a white pol. But Obama's hardly the first to use dog-whistle politics: "Deft practitioner" George W. Bush tapped in to the evangelical community using Biblical phrases and lines from church hymns.