Thursday, July 17, 2008

Democrat Party

In a post on the terms "Darwinist" and "Darwinism" Coturnix compared the terms to the use of "Democrat party" by Republicans.
Words like "Darwinist" and "evolutionist" that are never used by actual evolutionary biologists serve as code-words for belonging to the Creationist Village, just like saying "Democrat party" instead of "Democratic party" immediatelly signals one's political party affiliation (GOP).

A reader names Ian took issue with that.
I think your comment on the "Democratic" versus "Democrat" is quite as black and white as you indicate.

If you want to go the the Democratic Party web site you have to type
You cannot get there by typing
although that is a valid address.

Also the Democrats usually refer to themselves as such. You never hear anyone referring to the "Democratics"!

I'm sure it is used perjoratively, but I'm also sure there's "language laziness" involved on here just as there is all over the English language. It's rather easier to use the snappy "Democrat" than it is to use "Democratic".

I'll assume that Ian's comments were sincerely intentioned and not a disingenuous attempt to confuse the issue. What Coturnix referred to is really that black and white. The issue is not whether it's okay to call an individual supporter of the Democratic Party a Democrat. That usage has a long history of common usage and is used by the Democratic Party itself. No one has ever said that the proper noun for an individual is "a Democratic." The issue is whether it is an insult to call the Democratic Party the "Democrat Party." It is.

The legal name of the party is not the Democrat Party; it is the Democratic Party. None of the usual excuses for using another name apply here. There is no common nickname accepted by the Party like "Mormon for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saint or "GOP" for the Republican Party. It is not an inside slang used by members of the Party, as in the case of white idiots who insist they should be entitled to use the word "nigger" because they heard some Black rappers use it and despite the fact that they are not Black rappers.

It is ungrammatical; "Party" is a noun and "Democratic" is the correct adjectival modifier. It is also rude; any schoolyard bully knows that one of the easiest ways to get someone's ire is to consistently and defiantly mispronounce their name. It goes at a person's basic identity. It says, "you don't say who you are; I say who you are." This is why many people see Bush's insistence on making up nicknames for everyone he meets to be a basically rude and bullying behavior. "Democrat Party" also distances the Party from the concept of being democratic. It's just a name, a few syllables with no real meaning. That distancing is, of course, intentional for those who use "Democrat Party."

The use of "Democrat Party" by Republicans as an insult has long history going back to at least the 1930s (the OED notes at least one usage in the 1890s). A few Republican politicians and conservative commentators have used it over the years, but it didn't really become common--indeed, pervasive like the talking point of the week--until the Newt Gingrich era and the studied contol of messaging that Gingrich and Frank Luntz instituted. I think the phrase popped up during the attempted rehabilitation of Joe McCarthy, who used it almost exclusively when referring to the party of Jefferson and FDR. For people with any sense of decency, that should be reason enough to avoid it. Gingrich and Luntz latched on to it and made it party of their official usage for Republicans.

I'm not the only one who has explored this issue. Here's Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker:
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."

...and Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post:
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."

All of this history and analysis should be unnecessary for anyone with an iota of manners. All they should need to know is that when Democrats hear that term, they feel insulted. The essence of manners is to avoid offense. That should settle the issue. As Rabbi Hillel put it "The main idea is 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Everything else is commentary."

No comments: