Blacks, Whites Hear Obama Differently

Pundits are calling it the "dog whistle politics": When Obama speaks, whites hear one thing and blacks hear another. The difference is sometimes subtle—"Nah, we straight" turning down change at a chili restaurant, quoted as "No, we're straight" by a white reporter—but during some high-profile speeches, Politico argues, the effect can be profound, and Obama employs it with savvy. For instance, against rumors that he is Muslim, Obama said in South Carolina, "They try to bamboozle you, hoodwink you," a reference to Spike Lee's version of Malcolm X. Obama often alludes to the rhetoric of black figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Langston Hughes, but without overt references, only those alert to this language notice. The reminder that Michelle comes from the "South Side of Chicago" also falls into "dog whistle" territory. "His language, mannerisms and symbols resontae deeply with his black supporters, even as the references largely sail over the heads of white audiences," which is how the presidnet avoids the Jesse Jackson pitfall of being "defined by race," says Politico. The tactic is said to be Obama's version of George W. Bush's use of evangelical rhetoric—"Bush had his cowboy strut, and Obama has his swagger."