Wayne LaPierre’s “Demographically Symbolic” Dog Whistle

It’s really not often you’ll find me agreeing with the Internet trolls at Media Matters, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Media Matters linked to a portion of Wayne’s Speech at the NRA Annual Meeting, which I must have missed when we skipped out to cover the MDA protest. Here’s video for the context:

Wayne was quoted saying, “eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough,” in the context of Hillary Clinton following Barack Obama into the presidency. What the hell is that even supposed to mean? Why bother with the dog whistle? Just come out and say “We don’t need another affirmative action token President,” and be done with it, because isn’t that what was really said?

What speechwriter of Waynes’s thought it was a good idea to put that jab in there? How did Wayne, who presumably might have practiced the delivery once or twice, not realize how this is going to sound to blacks, hispanics, and women? Are Ben Carson or Bobby Jundal “demographically symbolic?” Or what about Marco Rubio,  Suzana Martinez, or Carly Fiorina, all of whom might throw their hat into the ring themselves, or be a sensible veep picks. It’s not just Republicans either. What about Democratic Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clark? At what point does one become merely “demographically symbolic?” I don’t understand the rules for this.

I am not coming at this from the same angle as Media Matters, because I don’t want to give NRA or Wayne a black eye; I want them to be more effective. I don’t believe this error is going to take down the NRA, and I don’t believe Wayne is a racist or sexist. His very capable executive assistant, who essentially runs his office, is a female minority. Whoever wrote or reviewed that speech made a very serious lapse in judgement. Before folks comment that I’m just tooling for the politically correct junta, and that there isn’t anything wrong with saying things that imply White Male Conservatives need to be in charge, there’s a bit of reality you need to understand.

One is that the issue has made tremedous progress among women. Each year there are more women and families on the NRA Annual Meeting show floor than the previous year. Bitter even brought out her brother’s whole family this year, since they live in the Nashville area. Where women go, families follow. It is very important to appeal to women, and dog whistling to white males is not how accomplish that.

Second, this issue has to reach out to blacks and hispanics, and win them over. You’ll hear criticism of NRA for not getting involved in the immigration issue. I agree they should not, because even if you stopped the flow of illegal immigrants completely, hispanics are still going to grow as a share of the voting public for the simple reason that they are having children at a greater rate compared to other demographics. You will not fix this problem with even perfect border control, only delay the inevitable.

NRA has no choice: it must reach out to women, blacks and hispanics if it wishes to secure the long term health of the Second Amendment. Polling among these groups show we have a base of understanding that we can use to get the conversation moving. Statements like Wayne’s not only don’t help us achieve our goals, but serve to reinforce the notion that NRA is an organization for White Male Conservatives. The implication is even stronger when Wayne makes that statement on a stage where the only people visible are other White Male Conservatives. NRA hasn’t had a female President since Sandy Froman left the stage eight years ago. Despite a huge influx of women into the issue, I don’t notice the nominating committe reaching out to try to attract more women on the Board.

If in ten to twenty years NRA is only an organization for White Male Conservatives, the NRA will become an irrelevant organization.

58 thoughts on “Wayne LaPierre’s “Demographically Symbolic” Dog Whistle”

  1. Well. I’m an asian minority and I didn’t have a problem with that. The current occupant of the White House did get there because of affirmative action.

    1. That’s one way to paraphrase what he was whistling, but wouldn’t Sarah Palin have also been a case of “demographic symbolism?” Would Bobby Jindal?

      I agree that Barack Obama was wholly unqualified for the office, and Hillary is equially unqialified (though probably more qualified than Barry was). That’s the real issue, and for someone in Wayne’s position, I think that’s a better way to broach that issue.

      1. Re: Palin. She was! And if I recall correctly, the left absolutely made hay out of that fact.

      2. She would have been, at least if people voted for her “because she’d be the first female president”.

        Of course, that would have taken a fair amount of Democrats voting for her – I’m not sure I heard a single Republican or Independent say “man, I’ll vote for her because it’d be great to have a woman, any woman, in the White House”. Probably some thought that? But it wasn’t a serious current.

        I did hear plenty of people saying basically that about President Obama.

        (Which makes me sad; vote for or against the person and their policy preferences, or you’re betraying everything valuable about the Republic.

        I’d rather have someone vote for a Progressive because they liked their policies than for even a Libertarian “because they’re a woman/black/left-handed Satanist and the first one!” – the latter is toxic.)

        1. (That said, I agree that LaPierre shouldn’t have said it, and that way, because it’s bad politics and easy to spin as some sort of bigotry.)

          1. I think progressive Democrats are very interested in making sure that the pro-gun people on their side (and polling shows it’s 20 some percentage of Democrats) understand:

            “These people are not your people. Keep voting for us, and don’t give heed to what those racist, sexist cousin humping yokels say. We all know this ‘taking people’s gun stuff’ is just silly nonsense.”

            What we really need to be careful about is providing them with evidence the caricature is true.

            1. Bingo! And this why the NRA membership stagnates at 4-5 million instead of the 15 to 20 million it could be.

              You’ve got Wayne making comments like this; bringing up 90’s video games after Sandy Hook, etc. You got Nugent foaming at the mouth like a rabid poodle every time he’s in front of a camera. And the list goes on and on.

              And I’m telling you this as a born and bred New Yorker who would have no problem with open carry, constitutional carry, no mag limits, etc., etc., here in NYC.

              I’ve got 2 employees born and raised in Nashville(!) who made derogatory comments about the NRA and Nugent when his name came up in conversation about rock music.

              I do think they are seriously out of touch of the gun owners they could be reaching. Have they even glanced at what the hipsters at Noveske are doing? If only they should take a hint from their marketing strategy!


              1. I’m skeptical NRA would gain that many members with a different approach, but the point is good. I don’t think NRA is going to change, however, unless things fall apart. From their point of view they have a working formula (and it’s hard to argue they don’t), and any modification to that formula would be viewed as risking the organization. A big problem NRA faces is that millennials aren’t joiners, so one has to take that into account. All civic associations are having problems with that generation.

                But that said, I think NRA would do well to balance the organization more, and not promote the mouth foamers like Nugent.

      3. If Hillary Clinton is unqualified, that speaks volumes about the qualifications of Paul, Cruz, Rubio, etc. — none of whom have even spent an entire term in the Senate let alone any other national office. You may not like Hillary, but she is qualified.

      4. I can understand why you’d say Obama was unqualified, but Hilary?

        Hilary Clinton has sat on the board of multiple international organizations, including Wal-Mart. She was the first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation, and the first female partner at Rose Law Firm. She served as a senator for more than six years before going on to serve as Secretary of State.

        None of this means I think she’d be a *good* President, but the woman has been involved with virtually every stage of politics. She’s worked in law. She’s shrewd and politically astute.

        “Qualified” doesn’t mean I like her — but if Clinton isn’t qualified to run for President, precious few people are.

        1. She’s qualified on paper. I’ll concede that. But she’s just never impressed me, either as an accomplished woman independent of her husband, or a talented politician. She is where she is because she married well.

    2. Obama did not win in 2008 because he was black; he won because George W Bush made the GOP brand politically toxic after eight years of mistakes and mismanagement, and John McCain, with his panicked reaction to the economic crash and ill-advised (‘demographically significant’!) running mate selection didn’t give people on the fence enough of a reason to take another chance on a Republican.

      LaPierre was trying to feed what he imagined to be a certain element in the crowd some pleasing lies. I wonder if he’s serious about planning for the long-term.

      1. Exactly!! I was really surprised at the number of Republican acquaintances who voted for Obama. My father had never voted Dem in his life but said he would “vote for Mickey Mouse before voting for those idiots again”

  2. “with saying things that imply White Male Conservatives need to be in charge”

    I’m going to lead off with saying that’s completely out of line, and you know it. No doubt the politically correct junta is going to make this hurt because they will successfully spin it that way, but that is not what he said.

    A HUGE amount of Obama’s support came solely because of his skin color. Just as a HUGE amount of Clinton’s support comes solely from her gender.

    By contrast, look at Warren, she largely gets support for her claimed positions. Granted those positions may be bat guano insane, and she rarely votes for them, but they, and not her gender, are the source of her support. So if LaPierre had made that comment about Warren, then I think you have a case claiming it’s a dog whistle about white male conservatives needing to be in power, but he didn’t.

    1. I understand your defense of the quote, but it’s just a bad line. Here are a couple of ways this line could have been better approached:

      “We’ve had enough of voting for people based on gender, race, or all those other labels people keep using to divide us, In 2016 we need a President who can lead on American values,”

      “Eight years of a President who divides Americans into demographics set against one another is enough.” There would be no ambigutity with that line. It would boil down the essence of what you’re saying and also tap into something a lot of Americaans are feeling in their gut. A third way:

      “Eight years of a President unqualified to hold the office is enough.”

      I could probably think up more ways to say what it seems Wayne may have been trying to say, without it sounding like a dog whistle, and that would hve either avoided this whole mess, or forced Media Matters to stand up for voting on race and gender, division, or lack of qualififications. And if there could be objections raised to those lines, then maybe it would have been best to simply remove it.

      1. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it was a good way of approaching the issue, and I like your alternatives. What I’m objecting to is our side in anyway construing it as being in fact a dog whistle.

        I also agree, we want the NRA to be effective. We also want the opposition to be ineffective. What he said and how he said it will work against both of those objectives.

        1. I don’t believe Wayne meant or heard it as a dog whistle. I have considerably less faith in the people who likely wrote the speech for him.

          1. I’m curious what makes you doubt the people below him so much. WLP owns his words no matter who wrote them. Alomg similar lines as your original point, the NRA Country gag reinforces the inbred redneck stereotype and probably alienates a few people. Why not stick to 2A stuff?

            1. I’m not always the biggest fan of NRA’s PR firm. I won’t say they don’t do good work, but they don’t do consistently good work. Some of what they do really is excellent, but some of what they do is crap, and sometimes I get concerned NRA can’t tell the difference. Their PR firm probably would be who writes Wayne’s speeches. I say probably because I don’t really know for sure.

              I don’t disagree that Wayne still owns the words, which is why I also attached that criticism to anyone who reviewed that speech. I went into that fully prepared to think MMFA was just trolling like they usually do, but I thought they had a point here.

              As to NRA Country, I may or may not be part of a secret cabal to bring non-country music to NRA Annual Meeting :)

              1. Good point. I get now where you’re coming from.

                The word you’re looking for is “Blues.” :)

              2. Ackerman-McQueen should have been dropped by NRA years ago. The PR work they have done stinks out loud. While I do not see this incident as being that big a deal, the constant carping NRA does about “media elites” does not help them one bit.

                1. I don’t think everything they do stinks. I don’t think NRA Freestyle is all that bad programming, though I question how far it’s really reaching and how much NRA is getting charged for it. Same with NRA News. Good programming, but I’d certainly be curious to know what they charge NRA to put it on. I don’t question the reach of NRA News content as much because I know guys at my club who talk about it, so it’s reaching the casually involved member. I think Ack-Mac tends to do decently with traditional media projects. I think they do less well with how they are branding Wayne, and thus NRA, and some of their technology efforts have been atrocious.

                  I’ve heard complaints about how much Ack-Mac charges. I don’t know because I’ve never seen a bill. Consulting services are usually pricy. A lot of those same people would probably complain my company’s rates are too high as well.

                  1. I don’t know how much they charge, but cost isn’t my main concern, it’s effectiveness. I have good relations with NY and NYC media outlets, even though some of the editorial boards aren’t pro-gun. The reason for this is I actually bother to talk to them and they know they can call for comment and get an answer. NRA has no relationship I can see with anyone. Name the last time you saw a press statement in PA from NRA on any issue.

                    1. Well, if you buy Brian Anse Patrick’s theory, NRA benefits more from having the media attack it than it would from better a better relationship with the MSM.

  3. I’ve always kinda figured that the only people who hear “dog whistles” are dogs, dempcraps, or others who are conscientiously listening for them.

  4. I agree. We have our first Affirmative Action President.

    Time to move on to an American leader prepared to lead America.

  5. I think you’re off the rails here – this was likely in response to Chelsea Clinton’s assertion that her mother’s election (God forbid) should occur because it would be “symbolic”.

    Don’t overthink this.

  6. Once again, when Obama took office the NRA membership numbers were flattening and they were facing competition from the GOA. They made a strategic decision to alter their image and messaging to specifically appeal to the Tea Party. They are the organization of Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin.

    1. I would have to agree, and I say this as a paleocon-minded individual.

      I’ve never been to an NRA convention so I reserve the right to change judgement on this. However, I have been to CPAC where WLP has spoken annually for years. I suspect most of the overtly “political” speakers would probably sound similar to those heard at CPAC. “Movement conservative” events generally pull from the same audience because the message is well-funded and there will always be a crowd to put asses in seats and listen. The message doesn’t have to be “tonal” to non-believers.

      The structure of Cam & Company is pretty much your OFWG talk radio format. Lots of complaining, “yeah I know, right?” remarks, and preaching to the choir, which is where the NRA fails to connect. Is that marketing? Yes, partially, but I think the NRA needs to re-tune their message to connect.

      BTW full disclosure… I do like NRA Country and Country music in general and am quite fine with that “program” of theirs. :D

      1. I’ve never been to an annual meeting myself but it comes across as CPAC II to me. The endless parading of law-and-order Republicans, conservative candidates and media figures, NRA Country shows, crowd shots of older white males in cowboy hats, and the speeches laced with dog whistles kinda turn me off. Not that I have any problem with country music and cowboy hats but it’s just not my thing and there isn’t anything else to choose from.

        Cam Edwards seems like a good guy, his show is alright, but being a 3 hour daily show, he has no choice but to go at it from a generic conservative viewpoint and not solely gun rights. The videos NRA News produces are pretty decent as well, the problem is take a look on YouTube or social media sites and see how the number of views/shares is modest and they never go viral.

        Now I think the NRA has re-tuned things a bit in the last few years to good effect, NRA Freestyle and the diverse slate of commentators representing Gun Culture 2.0 were two I was happy to see, and the NRA-PVF ads have a significantly higher quality than even the ones from the 2008 election.

    2. Having followed the finances of various gun and anti-gun groups, GOA has never really been serious competition to NRA at any point in its history.

      What forced NRA further into the right-center GOP coalition is the extinction of pro-gun Democrats.

      1. They were competition in the sense that they may not have drawn away members, but they gave super right wingers pause about joining the NRA.

        And drop the whole “extinction of pro=gun democrats angle.” It is just not true. without progun democrats you would have an assault weapons ban back in place and universal background checks. EVERY poll shows that about 30% of Dems are progun. Without pro-gun dems you never would have had the recalls in Colorado.

        Instead, the NRA continues to honor Sarah Palin, someone who has done NOTHING to advance gun rights. She has never signed one pro gun law. She is just there to attract the far right to the NRA.

        Go to DC. Get your NRA buddies who have been there a long time drunk, and they will admit that what I’ve been sayin is true.

        1. I agree with part of this about pro-gun Dems. not being extinct. They are not as vocal as they could be in no small part due to them not being acknowledged by NRA at election time.

        2. I should have qualified that to pro-gun Democratic politicians on the national level. How many Democrats in Congress can you name that would vote for National Reciprocity? Or better yet, vote against their own party’s Supreme Court nominee.

          1. See, now you are judging on SCOTUS votes. I don’t think that is right. The NRA only recently started scoring those votes. IMHO it is because it gives them an easy excuse to go against every Democrat. Voting against your party on a supreme vote is a HUGE ask. A zillion issues need to be considered, not just guns.

            There is a reason the NRA used to not score confirmation votes. Based on one vote…probably made devoid of anything to do with guns, you eliminate a potential ally.

            1. Nobody knows exactly how NRA rates candidates. If anyone reading this can explain what the criteria is please share. I don’t believe they put anywhere near the effort into candidate ratings they should and go with incumbents primarily as a default.

            2. Why shouldn’t SCOTUS confirmations be scored? The second amendment was nearly obliterated, but instead went FIVE-FOUR the way of rights. Those nine votes are way more critical to the future of the Bill of Rights than 100 or 435 and certainly moreso than you make them out to be.

              1. Because it is a no-win approach. 2A competes on a whole host of other constitutional issues. You are not going to change any minds, and risk alienating potential allies in pushing for legislation.

                Sebastian, post idea: Is the NRA really interested in proactively lobbying for legislation, or are they really more comfortable just saying “NO.”

  7. “Statements like Wayne’s not only don’t help us achieve our goals,…”

    If you goal is to rile up white conservatives in order to increase your membership, then it does help them achieve their goals.

    1. Most everyone I’ve talked to at NRA seems to understand that doubling down on white men isn’t going to work in the long term. The reason this statement upsets me is that it doesn’t reflect that understanding. Like I said, there were at least three different ways to say that which wouldn’t come off badly.

  8. It doesn’t matter what he meant by it – it matters what the statement got turned into. It’s not fair that words get twisted and that lies go round the world before truth can get it’s boots on. You know how you tell the difference between a game and real life? Only one is fair.

    This illustrates one of the big problems I have with mainstream conservative politicians – they’re retreating into an even tighter echo chamber than the progressives are. The progressives can get away with this because their echo chamber is surrounded by metaphorical anechoic padding – the media field is tilted towards them. Both sides say things that sound GREAT to themselves and their supporters, but off-key to the middle. But one side gets their off-key statements dampened down. Work with that, or get off the national stage.

  9. There might be some validity to Brian Patrick’s theory, but I believe the main problem is that it doesn’t seem to even occur to NRA to talk to the media about anything. This is Ack-Mac’s fault.

    How many more members and money would NRA have if people saw them doing something? How much better off would we be if politicians saw NRA’s name in the press talking about their issues. Ack-Mac should be looking for opportunities to get NRA statements out to the press and make spokesman available for comment. I don’t see much of that happening.

  10. “I don’t believe Wayne is a racist or sexist.”

    A lot of Nazis weren’t really antisemitic, either, but that didn’t matter in the big picture if they were willing to use antisemitic memes for purposes of political expediency, to advance their own careers or the power and influence of their party.

    The NRA has been pandering to our lowest common denominators among likely gun owners for several years now, clearly the low-hanging fruit in terms of easy recruitment, and thus income and head count. If this backfires on us to any extent, we have no one to blame but the LaPierres and Nugents.

    1. Right on! Maligning Obama as an “affirmative action President” or other BS is a great way of preventing people from using their heads.

      I just don’t want another boomer president.

  11. I should be clear that what I’m saying is it would be nice for NRA not to put things in speeches that can be taken to be racist/sexist dog whistles. NRA is probably always be a center-right organization at best, because that’s where most of its members are and where the biggest pool of gun owners is to be found.

    Remember, NRA didn’t endorse Harry Reid in part, because if they had, their membership would have torn them apart.

    1. I agree.

      I don’t spend a lot of energy in my personal life trying to filter everything I say to make sure someone doesn’t imagine some kind of hurt. This has caused a few people to write me off as a racist/sexist/homophobe/cis-male gender normative member of the patriarchy (or whatever the butt-hurt of the day is). However, a group like the NRA really should make the extra effort. Not doing so just gives free ammo to our opponents.

    2. Yup.

      And just last night I’d already seen the MediaMatters/etc. propaganda pieces that rewrote it to “racist calls for white man to be next President”.

      In fairness to them – more than they really deserve – probably most of the authors really believe that, being incapable of passing the Ideological Turing Test.

    3. “NRA is probably always be a center-right organization at best…”

      True, but what I fear is summarized by the old chestnut, “the extremes define the center.” If “right” in the NRA means, say, Barry Goldwater, I can live with that happily. If it means David Duke, I have problems. And, people like Nugent being the high-profile face of the NRA suggests more Dukes will be attracted to membership than Goldwaters.

  12. I was horrified when I heard about this comment.

    If LaPierre had wanted to say something productive, he could have said something like “I don’t think that we should vote for people based just on their race or gender – what counts is how well they defend the US Constitution, including the 2nd amendment.” My impression of his comment was “Well, having a black guy for 8 years sucked, and now the Dems want a female. That’ll suck too. We need to go back to just having white males as president.”

    I think whoever wrote that line in a speech needs to be fired. I also think that LaPierre needs to resign – he will be permanently branded as a fool in the eyes of many because of comments like this (including the “video games R bad” comment from the past). Get someone who can speak without putting his foot in his mouth and giving ammo to the other side (as far as calling us racist, sexist, etc.).

  13. Bloomberg says something directly racist and we say very little. LaPierre says something that’s offensive but likely correct, and suddenly we’re eating our own again.

    Can we move on now? For all the feigned horror at this remark, no one in the mainstream press covered it. If they thought they could make hay out of it, they would have. We’ve got more important things to worry about.

      1. He gets away with it because we don’t push hard enough; and LaPierre didn’t get mentioned for this in the mainstream press. You’d think the Eternally Offended would have quickly picked up on it, but they didn’t. So I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

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