Tuesday, June 11, 2024

From Scarsdale To Dearborn, Enough with the Dogwhistles Already

Incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) is facing a tough primary challenge from fellow Democrat George Latimer. Much of the heat in the primary has centered around Israel (Bowman is a harsh critic; Latimer has AIPAC backing), and in that context Latimer claimed in a public debate that Bowman's constituency is not the local residents of New York, but rather "Dearborn, Michigan" (and "San Francisco, California"). Dearborn is well-known for its large Arab and Muslim population, and so Bowman quickly called him out for the racist "dog-whistle".

I, of course, immediately harkened back to not-so-fond memories of Antone Melton-Meaux's 2020 primary challenge to Ilhan Omar,* where Omar's campaign sent out a mailer highlighting her challenger's donor support, singling out one from the heavily Jewish suburb of "Scarsdale, New York" (all of the named donors in Omar's mailer were also Jewish). This, too, was pounced on by Omar's opponents and said to be an antisemitic dog-whistle.

Latimer's defenders say he was merely highlighting Bowman's lack of local support. Omar's defenders likewise contended she was being unjustly smeared as a critic of Israel.

So, is this sort of attack a dog-whistle? Quick -- everybody switch sides!

In all seriousness, if you condemned the Omar campaign for its "Scarsdale mailer" you don't get to give Latimer a pass on this. And likewise, if you poo-pooed the Scarsdale mailer as a ginned up controversy over nothing you can sit right down in your high dudgeon over the Dearborn remark.

(My answer: Both instances were shady and both politicians deserved to be called out on it.)

* I'm bemused to rediscover that my blogpost on this controversy was titled "I Have To Talk About Omar and Melton-Meaux, Don't I?", which really captures a certain mood, doesn't it?


Ari Allyn-Feuer said...

Do you think it's legitimate to comment on the location of a political opponent's fundraising base? If most of it is from outside the district, is that a legitimate thing to attack them for (without mentioning specific places, especially those with an ethnic valence)?

David Schraub said...

I think "my opponent is supported by outsiders" is a pretty standard political trope, and while I find it relatively cheap, my instinct is not to think it's out of bounds.

Ari Allyn-Feuer said...

I agree.

Would we agree that it would be OK for Mr. Latimer to say something like:

"My opponent's funding doesn't come from the district. 95% of his funding, this is a real number, comes from outside the district, while most of mine comes from right here."

That's OK, right? The objectionable part was in mentioning other places?

How about:

"My opponent got more funding from California, more from Seattle, more from Miami and more from Detroit than he got from the district."

Now we've mentioned some places, but there's not much of an ethnic valence to the places mentioned.

Is that OK? I think so?

David Schraub said...

I'm not a big fan of the toddler-style creeping your hand as close as you can to your sibling while sing-songing "I'm not touching you! I'm not touching you!", but with racist dogwhistles. The inquiry (which boils down to "what's the absolute closest I can get to doing the dogwhistle while still being able to claim innocence") isn't one I want to engage in.

Ari Allyn-Feuer said...

That's not what I'm trying to do. :)

I'm trying to figure out how a candidate facing someone whose base of support is outside the district should address the issue.