Apparently, the normal rules of caution regarding avoidance of so-called “dog whistles” don’t apply when you’re talking about conservatives.
That’s the takeaway one gets from having watched Chris Cuomo say on CNN that Sen. Tim Scott — the South Carolina Republican who was arguably the star of the Republican National Convention’s first night — was “carrying water” for the president.
It’s not that he said it, mind you, it’s that no one seems to particularly mind that he said it.
The comment came during one of Cuomo’s less-than-Socratic dialogues with his CNN cohort, Don Lemon, during the network’s Monday coverage of the RNC. The topic was whether Trump lies more than other politicians do. Spoiler alert: Of course.
“Do politicians lie? Of course. Do both parties engage in it? Yes,” Cuomo said. “But not like Donald Trump.
“Nobody lies the way this man does, has and will, that I’ve ever seen in politics. So, he’s lying to you. And these people are all his echo,” Cuomo said.
“I mean, one’s his son. You know, the other one is his son’s girlfriend,” he continued, referencing the speeches by Donald Trump, Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, both of whom were speakers on the convention’s first night.
“So, OK. But Tim Scott. You know, look, they’re carrying water for him. You know, Tim Scott was very careful about what he didn’t mention.”
— Nicholas Fondacaro (@NickFondacaro) August 25, 2020
Well. It’s certainly curious to speculate what Chris Cuomo wasn’t mentioning himself.
It’s difficult to find a precise etymology of the phrase “carrying water.” The closest I could find was from a 2004 issue of the now-defunct web newsletter The Word Detective.
The newsletter noted that the phrase “does indeed mean to occupy a subservient position, to do the bidding, the menial tasks, and frequently the dirty work, of a more powerful person, and is most often used in a political context.”
As for the precise etymology, it said the idiom “seems to have appeared in the late 1970s in the figurative sense in which it is now most often used, and almost certainly sprang from sports, where the position of ‘water boy,’ charged with catering to the players’ comfort (including supplying them with water and the like), is the lowest rung in the team hierarchy.”
There aren’t citations, however. The meaning of the phrase — and it being used in the context of a black man’s subservience to a white president, supposedly sacrificing his principles in the process — is deeply problematic.
Former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell didn’t come right out and say it was offensive in a tweet after Cuomo’s remarks, but the fact he felt the need to comment at all made it clear what he was implying:
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) August 25, 2020
Others made it a bit more clear:
Such an insult and racist comment. Give @SenatorTimScott credit for making his own decisions and he doesn’t carry water for anyone.
— Leesa FL (@leesa_fl) August 25, 2020
“Such an insult and racist comment,” one user tweeted. “Give @SenatorTimScott credit for making his own decisions and he doesn’t carry water for anyone.”
Rita Panahi — a columnist for the Melbourne, Australia-based Herald Sun — noted the slur Cuomo himself didn’t speak but which probably came to viewers’ minds:
Surprised Fredo didn’t call him an ‘Uncle Tom’…the Left hate minorities who dare think for themselves.
— Rita Panahi (@RitaPanahi) August 25, 2020
Another user pointed out the kind of racist attacks that Scott is the target of on a regular basis:
This is racist. It’s a huge reason why Sen Scott is on the receiving end of so many death threats and hate.
— Mandy ☕??? (@SpringSteps) August 25, 2020
Meanwhile, while a number of Twitter users noted how close this was to calling Scott an “Uncle Tom,” one discovered a different similarity:
— Covfefe Kimmie (@kimmieguy) August 25, 2020
This, of course, was the infamous moment when Scott introduced police reform legislation that Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate minority whip, called “a token, half-hearted approach,” according to Politico.
That remark led to an impassioned speech by Scott.
“To have the senator from Illinois refer to the process, this bill, this opportunity to restore hope and confidence from the American people, from African Americans, from communities of color, to call this a token process hurts my soul for my country, for our people,” Scott said.
“To think that the concept of anti-lynching as a part of this legislation to be considered a token piece of legislation because perhaps I’m African American, the only one on this side of the aisle, I don’t know what he meant, but … those comments again hurts the soul.”
You would think people would learn after this. You’d be wrong. But amazingly, this all passed largely without mention outside of Twitter.
The conclusion is that dog whistles like this are perfectly acceptable during the Republican National Convention. They’re perfectly acceptable when targeted at Republicans and conservatives. Just don’t try it with Democrats.
Was this a racist comment? If you can’t tell, the standard ought to be giving people the benefit of the doubt. However, it’s worth noting that benefit is rarely, if ever, extended to conservatives.
This wasn’t as explicit as Durbin’s remark, and I hate to play the turnabout game, but this is one of the instances where it bears fruit: In what universe would Cuomo’s remark be considered appropriate if it had been made by a conservative? If this was on Fox News as opposed to CNN and this had been the Democratic National Convention as opposed to the Republicans’ quadrennial gathering, how much do you want to bet that it would be the major story of the week.
Sadly, this is indicative of a lot of what you’re going to see on CNN during the Republican National Convention.
CNN is basically running its coverage as if it were a fact check designed to come out negative in almost every circumstance.
According to NewsBusters, CNN interrupted coverage of night two of the convention four times, compared to just one time on night two of the Democratic National Convention. Night one of the GOP convention, during which Scott spoke, was interrupted six times compared to twice on the Democratic side.
CNN is fantastic, because it proves that if there weren’t double standards, the left would have no standards at all.
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