Early on in this increasingly ugly primary season, Ted Cruz used the term "New York Values" in an attack on his opponent. That's what's called a "dogwhistle," a term that sends a hidden signal to those listening for it. He said "New York Values" when he intended people to hear the word "Jews." Because he wished to appeal to the sort of voter who thinks of "Jew" as a derogatory term.
Senator Bernie Sanders, last night on The Nightly Show, passionately and brilliantly defended "New York Values" in a literal mic-drop moment. It was a wonderful piece of television, made difficult to watch, because, earlier that evening, a Sanders supporter at a packed rally in Washington Square used the term "corporate Democratic whores" in a campaign speech introducing his candidate. Dr. Paul Song, who was speaking passionately about health care, used the term to disparage, he says, "some in congress who are beholden to corporations and not us." Senator Sanders has since disapproved of Song's language.
"New York Values" is a dogwhistle. But "whore" isn't even that. It's a direct attack, with an intent to debase. Here's the full quote, to get it in context:
Now Secretary Clinton has said that Medicare-for-all will never happen. Well, I agree with Secretary Clinton that Medicare-for-all will never happen if we have a president who never aspires for something greater than the status quo. Medicare-for-all will never happen if we continue to elect corporate Democratic whores who are beholden to big pharma and the private insurance industry instead of us.
Here's the thing. When a Sanders supporter uses the word "whore" in a campaign speech, the "context" is not important. He uses the term so that it's now out there, now it's part of accepted discourse. Now it's okay to call a woman running for president a whore. The intent, of course, was just to get it out there, you know, just so people could hear it and digest it and it would a normal thing to do, so that it would then be easier to put down the next woman running for president.
That is to say, the purpose of using the word "whore" in a campaign speech, when your opponent is a woman, is to debase the woman, to link your opponent with the word "whore," to reduce her entire life, all her accomplishments, all her ambitions and goals, to the most derogatory thing you can call a woman. What other possible intent could there be?
You could argue, well, he doesn't directly call Secretary Clinton a whore. He's only referring to people like Secretary Clinton. But he names no other people. The word "whore" is used in close proximity to the name "Clinton" so that the audience will link the two. And, in the speech last night, the crowd cheered, because Dr. Song was using a word they've been using in private to debase Clinton in their own circles. Like Trump, who doesn't even know what a dogwhistle is, Dr. Song was intentionally lowering the standard of discourse in order to reduce his candidate's opponent.
Why use the term at all? A speaker uses a strong, loaded, provocative word in order to create an indelible image in the mind of the audience. All politicians do it, that's what words are there for. Either Senator Sanders knew about the speech and approved of it, or he didn't know about the speech and is incompetent. There is no third option.
It's a shame, because I agree with 99% of everything that Sanders stands for. Generally speaking, he represents a bold vision for the Democratic party. He should have been able to run on issues and done very well. Instead, he has created a campaign that gets increasingly ugly and brutal with each passing day.