Read this mid-July quote from Tom Cotton:

“Right now we’ve all been in a situation where we stand in the line in Wal-Mart or Brookshires and someone has steak in their basket yet they have a brand new iPhone and they’re going out to a brand new SUV when families are struggling to put hamburger on their table for their own families and the person with the steak is using a food stamp card.”

Did you hear the political dog whistle the Republican Congressman was blowing hard on? Do you have an image in your mind of what type of people he’s talking about and who he’s attempting to appeal to with this anecdote?

Hendrix political science professor Dr. Jay Barth has an insightful column in this week’s Arkansas Times that highlights the racially-tinged language Congressmen Tom Cotton and Tim Griffin use to appeal to Southern white voters.

Barth notes that in modern times garnering votes based on direct appeals to race are no longer effective, so those who wish to use this tactic use more subtle ploys – which is why I use the term “dog whistle” since the noise is not for everyone to hear, but those who do, hear it loud and clear.

Tim Griffin’s political dog whistle is the so-called “Obamaphone,” or as I like to call them, “Reaganphones,” since the program was actually created during Ronald Reagan’s administration.

Frankly, it’s resentment by some Southern whites of low-income African-Americans getting taxpayer-funded cell phones that Griffin has tapped into with his constant harping on this issue. The 2012 YouTube video of an African-American woman hollering how Barack Obama gave her a free cell phone got 8.3 million hits since various right-wing groups heavily pushed the link around last year. The video was catnip for those white voters who believe poor African-Americans are free-loading on taxpayers’ money.

Barth correctly points out that Cotton’s racial appeal is old school, while Griffin’s is more creative in using subtly racial-tinged appeals.

For years, I’ve heard Cotton’s old school racial story and whenever someone tells me a similar anecdote I think they’re making it up because whenever I begin questioning their story, it starts to fall apart.

I always ask the storyteller the following: Why did you notice they had steak? Was it because they were black? Flank steak or filet mignon? (There’s a massive price difference.) What does an EBT card look like? You just happened to follow them to the parking lot?

Cotton’s tale is similar to another urban myth that preys on racial stereotypes. It seems like dozens of people I know all claim to have a nurse friend who told them about a black or Hispanic couple that named their newborn twins OrangeJello and LemonJello. Based on how many times I’ve heard this story, there must be 1.2 million people in America named OrangeJello walking around.

The point is these stories don’t use overtly offensive racial language, but the stories traffic in racial stereotypes that many believe to be true.

Unfortunately, some Arkansas Democrats don’t understand the deeper meanings and attack Tom Cotton for voting to cut food stamps, which is exactly what Cotton and his campaign are hoping for.

Regardless of whether or not Barack Obama is in the White House, a great swath of the American public always believe the poor are lazy and freeloading off the government and, unlike other cultures, in America we don’t generally respect the poor. Numerous studies have shown this to be true.

Cotton knows when Democrats attack him for his food stamp votes it allows him to once again blow on his political dog whistle. There are rarely political repercussions for appealing to some Americans’ belief that poor folks just refuse to work and sit around watching daytime TV while the taxpayers support them. And what color do some Southern whites believe these supposed lazy poor folks to be?

Barth’s column peels backs the layers and exposes what Cotton and Griffin are attempting to do when they bring up food stamps and Obamaphones. I highly recommend giving it a read.

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Michael Cook
Michael Cook is the moderator for his opinion blog, Cook's Outlook. He can be reached by e-mail at Michael@CooksOutlook.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mcookAR or on Facebook: facebook.com/CooksOutlook.