Jeremy Peters on the 'Dog-Whistle Politics,' Subliminal Crosses of the Religious Right

New York Times media reporter Jeremy Peters was seeing things in Wednesday's story on secret, 'dog-whistle' religious appeals by GOP candidates past and present: 'Appealing to Evangelicals, Hopefuls Pack Religion Into Ads.'

'Dog-whistle politics' is a derogatory term, often employed to describe what liberals consider to be coded, subliminal racist messages 'pitched' too high for the general public to recognize. Peters, who seems suspicious of the idea of appealing to evangelical Christians, gets in a dig at Catholics to boot.

There is Rick Perry, a stained-glass window and a large illuminated cross over his right shoulder, looking more preacher than politician. An aerial shot of a soaring church steeple zooms into focus a few seconds later. Then - blink and you'll miss it - a picture of Mr. Perry, the Texas governor, with his arm around Mike Huckabee flashes on the screen.

In more overt ways than ever, Republican candidates vying for support from Iowa caucusgoers are turning to religious language and imagery in their advertisements, seeking to appeal to the Christian conservative base that will play a pivotal role in determining the victor here.

Gone are the suggestive and supposedly subliminal images of campaigns past, as when Mr. Huckabee caused a stir in 2007 after releasing a commercial that appeared to show a cross floating in the background.

The new, more pointed religious references reflect how campaigns are scrambling for support among evangelicals who are still divided over whom to support as the caucuses near.

Peters' examples of 'dog-whistle politics' range from overwrought to dubious.

Politicians have long employed coded language in their messaging to religious conservatives, a practice often derided as dog-whistle politics for its ability to stir emotions among those who are in-the-know while passing undetected over others. Sarah Palin has often referred to her support from 'prayer warriors,' a term known among evangelicals as those who engage in battle with Satan.

The 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign used billboards with faint images of crosses. And at the Republican National Convention that year, the lecterns on stage were made of two-tone wood that appeared designed to resemble crosses. The Bush campaign insisted it was a coincidence. Where some people see a rusty water stain, after all, others see the Virgin Mary.

A web search suggests the term 'prayer warriors' does not necessarily entail the idea of apocalyptic battles with demonic forces, but more of a network of religious comfort and support.

A 2004 post by BeliefNet editor Steven Waldman suggests the obscure idea that the Bush team embedded crosses into convention podiums as a subliminal message originated with liberal talk radio host Ellen Rattner. Waldman toyed with the prospect, but also pointed out: 'The problem, of course, is that any two lines intersecting form a cross, so if you look for them, you can find crosses many places.'