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Truth is Powerful

Op-ed: Dog whistles, deficits and the racist politics behind ‘pay as you go’ rules in Congress

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A man makes his way past the U.S. Capitol in Washington, February 26, 2021.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement and the Great Society, opponents of the post-war welfare state found themselves in a novel position: federal social programs, which under the New Deal had largely been reserved for whites, had now been much more widely extended to Blacks by Great Society legislation.

This provided a potent means of turning white public opinion against such social programs, by allowing opponents to play on the perception (however unfounded) that these programs primarily served Blacks. Yet thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, it was no longer socially acceptable to make explicit appeals to racism.

To thread this needle, the effort to systematically dismantle our federal social programs would turn to coded racist political messaging, known as “dog whistles,” to appeal to white voters as taxpayers.

This weaponization of racist dog whistle politics had a profound impact on American society, and continues to define our political discourse and public institutions in underappreciated ways that the Democrats would be wise to confront as they take power.The Great Depression achieved a historic feat in that it legitimized federal social programs and higher tax […]

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