Chris Cillizza’s Dog Whistle

So Chris Cillizza wants to be the latest in a long line of smart, unimaginative commentators who want to say that Bernie Sanders can’t win the presidency because of the “socialist” label.  As if that’s a particularly original, or particularly brave, thing to say to earn the gazillions of dollars he earns writing for the establishment Washington Post.

But what’s interesting is that he posts a list of a bunch of different descriptors of candidates that people won’t vote for, along with the percentages of who would, and who would not, vote for that kind of candidate.  The list: Catholic, woman, black, Hispanic, Jewish, Mormon, gay/lesbian, evangelical Christian, Muslim, atheist, socialist.

First, Bernie Sanders’s own actual ideological descriptor isn’t even on the list: Democratic Socialist.  Cillizza says that the five words “I am a Democratic Socialist” are enough to sink Sanders’s chances of being president.  Oh?  Then why isn’t Democratic Socialist being polled on this list?  Afraid that Democratic Socialism might rate a little higher than “socialist” by itself, which might poke a few holes in this received wisdom?

But why include a list at all?

It’s because this is a dog-whistle.  It’s not the socialism that the piece wants to reinforce.  It’s that other one.


This is a hit piece, make no mistake.  And there’s no reason to reinforce the already trodden, boring, ho-hum ground that says “Sanders can’t win because he’s a socialist.”  There have already been a million, billion, gazillion people saying that.  There’s nothing new to see here.

Except for that chart.  That chart that reminds you that the are a number of kinds of candidates that a certain number of people won’t vote for.  That chart that reminds you that there’s something else about Bernie Sanders other than the already trodden ground of his Democratic Socialism that should make you concerned.

Granted, the chart says that 91% of Americans would vote for a Jew, and only 7% would refuse to vote for a Jew.  No matter.  That’s not the point.  The point to the inclusion of the chart is to remind you that Sanders is Jewish at all. 

“Socialist” is a long-held anti-Semitic dog-whistle for “Jew.”  As a for-instance, check out the writings of noted antisemitic author Elizabeth Dilling, whose raison d’etre is the explication of how Jews are in control of all socialist and communist regimes in the world.

(The Jews, it seems, can’t win.  According to anti-Semites, they are either consummate capitalists and control all the banks, or consummate communists and control all the totalitarian socialist regimes in history.  Which is it?  It can’t be both.)

Now, you would think that since this trope does exist, and that since Bernie Sanders is a Jew, after all, a journalist of Chris Cillizza’s caliber would realize it is incumbent on any journalist to make the very careful distinction, then, between what Bernie Sanders actually advocates— Democratic Socialism— and mere “socialism,” which is often an anti-semitic dog-whistle.  But does Chris Cillizza make this careful distinction on his cute chart where we see the words “Jewish” and “socialist” lumped together?


And since Chris Cillizza wants to be the good guy and point the finger at other examples of anti-Semitism leveled against Sanders, it seems to me that Cillizza really, really, really should know better.

Or would he?  As Kyle Drennen notes,  Chris Cillizza gives a pass to Joe Biden as being “real” and “authentic” when it’s the sitting vice president who is making the anti-Semitic slur.

(Aha.  Now we know who Chris Cillizza’s pulling for.)

Whether intended or not, Chris Cillizza’s little list and refusal to use the “Democratic” part of “Democratic Socialism” support those who want to promulgate anti-Semitic dog whistles about Bernie Sanders.

Way to go, champ.

-Robert Gross

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