We Are Taking Back Our Good Name!


Modified: November 24, 2006


The Democratic Party!

We Democrats have an old, distinguished, and proud name, which attests proudly to a host of values, including decency, concern for everyone, and a belief in the inherent worth of all citizens. However, over a good part of the last century, Republicans have been trying to change the name of our party, the Democratic Party, to a name of their own choosing, the Democrat Party.

This was no accident. It has been an intentional campaign designed to smear our party and to distract everyone from the meaning of our name.

Nov. 15: Bush said some of the right things at his press conference, but he chose his words carelessly. He congratulated the “Democrat leaders” and promised bipartisanship—a goal he is unlikely to advance by referring to his hoped-for new partners by a name calculated solely to annoy them.

--Hendrik Hertzberg, New Yorker, Nov. 20 issue



Who says this is happening?

  • Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post, Nov. 22 2006 (and repeated in the Sacramento Bee Nov. 24): One Syllable of Civility

Wednesday, November 22, 2006; Page A21

If he wanted to, President Bush could change the tone in Washington with a single syllable: He could just say "ic." That is, he could stop referring to the opposition as the "Democrat Party" and call the other side, as it prefers, the Democratic Party.

The derisive use of "Democrat" in this way was a Bush staple during the recent campaign. "There are people in the Democrat Party who think they can spend your money far better than you can," he would say in his stump speech, or, "Raising taxes is a Democrat idea of growing the economy," or, "However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses."

But even as he promised to work to change the tone in Washington after the elections, the president couldn't manage to change his language. In his day-after-the-elections news conference, Bush employed this needling locution five times. "This morning, I spoke with Republican and Democrat leadership in the House and Senate," he began, adding, "it is clear the Democrat Party had a good night last night." That was followed by references to "Democrat leaders," "Democrat leadership" and "Democrat votes," as in, "We got some tax cuts passed with Democrat votes." Geez, you'd think he'd at least give them the -ic when they vote for his tax cuts.

The president isn't alone in his adjectival aversion to "Democratic" when it comes to the party. The provenance of the sneering label "Democrat Party" stretches back to the Harding administration. William Safire traced an early usage to Harold Stassen, who was managing Wendell Willkie's 1940 campaign against Franklin D. Roosevelt. A party run by political bosses, Stassen told Safire for a 1984 column, "should not be called a 'Democratic Party.' It should be called the 'Democrat party.' "

Democrat Party was used, pardon the phrase, liberally by Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy. According to the Columbia Guide to Standard American English, "Democrat as an adjective is still sometimes used by some twentieth-century Republicans as a campaign tool but was used with particular virulence" by McCarthy, "who sought by repeatedly calling it the Democrat party to deny it any possible benefit of the suggestion that it might also be democratic." The word also achieved a prominent run with Bob Dole's especially ugly reference to "Democrat wars" during the 1976 vice presidential debate.

But Democrat-as-epithet has seen its fullest flowering -- on talk radio, among congressional leaders and, more than with any of his predecessors, from the president himself -- during the recent Republican heyday. As Hendrik Hertzberg pointed out in the New Yorker in August, the conservative Web site NewsMax.com takes pains to scrub Associated Press copy "to de-'ic' references" to the party.

There is, I concede, a trivial, sticks-and-stones quality to this linguistic bickering. "Two thousand, eight hundred, forty-seven votes in Montana may break your control," the Democrats might taunt the GOP, "but names will never hurt us." As any parent who's ever had to mediate between squabbling siblings could tell them, "He's only doing it because he knows it bothers you. If you don't respond to him, he'll stop." After all, Democrats, what's so terrible about being called Democrat, small "d" or large?

But as a matter of simple politeness -- something the Bush family is famously good at -- it's rude to call people by a term that makes them bristle, even a seemingly innocuous one. There's also something grating and coarse-sounding about this abbreviated appellation, like saying "Jew" instead of "Jewish." It is, conservative wordsmith William F. Buckley wrote in National Review in 2002, "offensive to the ear."

And with reason: It's intended to be. Republican -- Publican? -- politicians drop the -ic both to annoy the opposition and to diminish the big-D Democrats' claim to the small-d democratic virtues. " 'Democrat Party' is a slur, or intended to be -- a handy way to express contempt," Hertzberg wrote. "At a slightly higher level of sophistication, it's an attempt to deny the enemy the positive connotations of its chosen appellation."

In the few weeks since the election, the president has followed up his syrupy rhetoric of cooperation with a series of face slaps: pushing the doomed nomination of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations, resubmitting the equally doomed nominations of a quartet of offensive judicial selections and naming a physician to head the federal family planning program who works for clinics that refuse to offer birth control.

So it's probably naive to give any credence to the presidential happy talk and blue ties. But if, just maybe, the president wants to do more than pay lip service to the notion of a new tone in Washington, he could start by just paying lip service.


  • Media Matters (Wed, Aug 16, 2006 7:41pm EST): GOP strategists christen "Democrat [sic] Party" -- and the media comply
    Summary: Several media figures, including news reporters, echoed Republicans by employing the word "Democrat" as an adjective to refer to things or people of, or relating to, the Democratic Party. In recent months, media figures, including news reporters at CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press echoed Republicans by employing the word "Democrat" as an adjective to describe things or people of, or relating to, the Democratic Party -- including referring to the "Democrat" Party itself, even though that is not the party's name. The ungrammatical conversion of the noun "Democrat" to an adjective was the brainchild of Republican partisans, presumably an attempt to deny the opposing party the claim to being "democratic" -- or in the words of New Yorker magazine senior editor Hendrik Hertzberg, "to deny the enemy the positive connotations of its chosen appellation." In the early 1990s, apparently due largely to the urging of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Republican pollster Frank Luntz, the use of the word "Democrat" as an adjective became near-universal among Republicans.
    (Go to complete article)
  • Hendrik Hertzberg, THE “IC” FACTOR, New Yorker Magazine, Issue of 2006-08-07:
    The American Heritage College Dictionary... defines the noun “Democratic Party” as “One of the two major US political parties, owing its origin to a split in the Democratic-Republican Party under Andrew Jackson in 1828.” (It defines “Democrat n” as “A Democratic Party member” and “Democratic adj” as “Of, relating to, or characteristic of the Democratic Party,” but gives no definition for—indeed, makes no mention of—“Democrat Party n” or “Democrat adj”.) Other dictionaries, and reference works generally, appear to be unanimous on these points. The broader literate public also comes down on the “Democratic” side, as indicated by frequency of usage. A Google search for “Democratic Party” yields around forty million hits. “Democrat Party” fetches fewer than two million.

    There’s no great mystery about the motives behind this deliberate misnaming. “Democrat Party” is a slur, or intended to be—a handy way to express contempt. Aesthetic judgments are subjective, of course, but “Democrat Party” is jarring verging on ugly. It fairly screams “rat.” At a slightly higher level of sophistication, it’s an attempt to deny the enemy the positive connotations of its chosen appellation. During the Cold War, many people bridled at obvious misnomers like “German Democratic Republic,” and perhaps there are some members of the Republican Party (which, come to think of it, has been drifting toward monarchism of late) who genuinely regard the Democratic Party as undemocratic. Perhaps there are some who hope to induce it to go out of existence by refusing to call it by its name, à la terming Israel “the Zionist entity.” And no doubt there are plenty of others who say “Democrat Party” just to needle the other side while signalling solidarity with their own—the partisan equivalent of flashing a gang sign.

    The history of “Democrat Party” is hard to pin down with any precision, though etymologists have traced its use to as far back as the Harding Administration. According to William Safire, it got a boost in 1940 from Harold Stassen, the Republican Convention keynoter that year, who used it to signify disapproval of such less than fully democratic Democratic machine bosses as Frank Hague of Jersey City and Tom Pendergast of Kansas City. Senator Joseph McCarthy made it a regular part of his arsenal of insults, which served to dampen its popularity for a while. There was another spike in 1976, when grumpy, growly Bob Dole denounced “Democrat wars” ... in his Vice-Presidential debate with Walter Mondale. Growth has been steady for the last couple of decades, and today we find ourselves in a golden age of anti-“ic”-ism.

    In the conservative media, the phenomenon feeds more voraciously the closer you get to the mucky, sludgy bottom. “Democrat Party” is standard jargon on right-wing talk radio and common on winger Web sites like NewsMax.com, which blue-pencils Associated Press dispatches to de-“ic” references to the Party of F.D.R. and J.F.K. (The resulting impression that “Democrat Party” is O.K. with the A.P. is as phony as a North Korean travel brochure.) The respectable conservative journals of opinion sprinkle the phrase around their Web sites but go light on it in their print editions. William F. Buckley, Jr., the Miss Manners cum Dr. Johnson of modern conservatism, dealt with the question in a 2000 column in National Review, the magazine he had founded forty-five years before. “I have an aversion to ‘Democrat’ as an adjective,” Buckley began.

  • Dear Joe McCarthy used to do that, and received a rebuke from this at-the-time 24-year-old. It has the effect of injecting politics into language, and that should be avoided. Granted there are diffculties, as when one desires to describe a “democratic” politician, and is jolted by possible ambiguity.

But English does that to us all the time, and it’s our job to get the correct meaning transmitted without contorting the language.

The job of politicians, however, is different, and among those of the Republican persuasion “Democrat Party” is now nearly universal. This is partly the work of Newt Gingrich, the nominal author of the notorious 1990 memo “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” and his Contract with America pollster, Frank Luntz, the Johnny Appleseed of such linguistic innovations as “death tax” for estate tax and “personal accounts” for Social Security privatization. Luntz, who road-tested the adjectival use of “Democrat” with a focus group in 2001, has concluded that the only people who really dislike it are highly partisan adherents of the—how you say?—Democratic Party. “Those two letters actually do matter,” Luntz said the other day. He added that he recently finished writing a book—it’s entitled “Words That Work”—and has been diligently going through the galley proofs taking out the hundreds of “ic”s that his copy editor, one of those partisan Dems, had stuck in.

In days gone by, the anti-“ic” tic tended to be reined in at the Presidential level. Ronald Reagan never used it in polite company, and George Bush père was too well brought up to use the truncated version of the out party’s name more than sparingly. Not so Bush fils—and not just in e-mails sent to the Party faithful, which he obviously never reads, let alone writes. “It’s time for the leadership in the Democrat Party to start laying out ideas,” he said a few weeks ago, using his own personal mouth. “The Democrat Party showed its true colors during the tax debate,” he said a few months before that. “Nobody from the Democrat Party has actually stood up and called for actually getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program,” he said a week before that. What he meant is anybody’s guess, but his bad manners were impossible to miss. Hard as it is to believe from this distance in time, George W. Bush came to office promising to “change the tone.” That he has certainly done. But, as with so much else, it hasn’t worked out quite the way he promised.
(Complete article)

  • Thom Hartman

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From Toner's May 31 New York Times article:

One reason for Democratic optimism here is the possibility of a wounded Republican nominee emerging from a bitter (and relatively late) primary. Mr. Ford's major opponent in the Democrat primary withdrew recently, giving him the luxury of running a general election campaign -- raising money and running advertising, most recently on the price of gasoline.

From Francis' August 11 Wall Street Journal article:

During the bidding, political tensions are mostly muted, though in 1998 Ms. Harris dubbed the baby possum she won for $100 "Sandra" after her opponent for secretary of state, Sandra Mortham. This year, Republican and Democrat candidates stood together as the auction approached, eyeing the nearby cage of possums, including a big, one-eyed male that the handlers called "fierce."

From Barnhart's August 15 Chicago Tribune article:

The prospect of a Democrat Party takeover of the U.S. House in the fall election bothers conservatives; the thought of more than two more years of George W. Bush depresses liberals.

From Raum's June 16 AP article:

One set of numbers Bush will not give and which Democrats and some Republicans are pressing for the hardest is the timing and size of a U.S. troop withdrawal. Telegraphing such a timetable would be "bad policy," Bush says.

Democrat Party chief Howard Dean, however, says, "The reality is that our troops and their families still have no strategy from this president to get the job done in Iraq and get them home."

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What can we do about it?

  • Remember: there is no such thing as the Democrat Party. There is only a Democratic Party! We need to correct people, assuming they could be misinformed. I have heard from Southerners that people in the South routinely use the term incorrectly, but we can't assume that Southerners are not educable. Everyone deserves the chance to learn how to speak correctly!
  • Every one of us needs to take responsibility for notifying newspapers, magazines, websites, political campaigns, radio talk show hosts etc. when we hear our name misused. If you let us know you have educated someone and they change, let us know and we'll publish your name or nickname.
  • If people are notified that they have used our name incorrectly, and they refuse to change, then we must recognize that they are not misinformed, but are in fact mean-spirited. Please write the Webmaster, and we'll list them on this website.

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PBS Interview with Frank Luntz

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