This youtube clip, with a caption that shows Michele Bachmann asking a crowd "Who likes white people?", has occasioned a fair amount of discussion:
(The original http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE4OPMmdPsg has now been declared "private" — I've substituted one from another site.)
But the caption is wrong — what Rep. Bachmann said was clearly "Who likes wet people?"
And the context, which was misleadingly edited out of the captioned clip, makes this especially clear:
Who like wet people? Yeah that's right. Because we have the god of the winds and the rains, don't we. We serve a mighty god.
A little on the pagan side, maybe, but not at all racial. And the ambient weather was indeed rainy.
The "white people" theory was promptly shot down yesterday afternoon on reddit, but it's still circulating.
Presumably the people who hear "white" instead of "wet" are used to monophthongal pronunciations of the PRICE lexical set, even before voiceless consonants — or at least are willing to attribute this pronunciation to Rep. Bachmann. They'd have to go along with some fronting and raising of the vowel nucleus as well.
For a brief discussion of the history and sociology of this issue, see e.g. Raven McDavid Jr., "The Language of the City", American Studies 1969, who notes
what seems to have become a standard Southern pronunciation (though it is not my own), the use of a long vowel instead of a diphthong in nice white rice (as well as in high rise, where I do have it), has never ceased to bewilder unsophisticated Northerners, even to the barbarous assumption that Southerners confused right and rat,
Whatever has been going on with these vowels in various times, places, and classes of the American South, we can be pretty sure that it doesn't include the Iowa and Minnesota of Michele Bachmann's personal history.
[I should note that David Bardash suggested that Rep. Bachmann might have said
“Who likes West people?,” as in, West Des Moines, where she was …
This is hard to square with the acoustic record, in my opinion — the vowel would be right, but it's not easy to lose an /s/ in that context, either in production or in perception.]
Update — Thomas Lane at TPM transcribes Rep. Bachmann in a different way after the "wet" part:
"Who likes wet people?" she asks, to cheers from the crowd. "That's right," she continues. "Because we have to gather the winds and the rains, don't we? We serve a mighty god."
He has "we have to gather the winds and the rains" where I transcribed "we have the god of the winds and the rains". Listening to it a few more times, I think I'm right and he's wrong. But then I would, wouldn't I?