- This article refers to a political epithet; for information about the U.S. Democratic Party, see Democratic Party (United States).
is a political epithet
used in the United States
by some people (in many cases, conservative
commentators or some members of the Republican Party
in speeches and press releases) instead of the name (or more precisely, the proper noun
) Democratic Party
Many members of the Democratic Party object to the term. New Yorker commentator Hendrik Hertzberg wrote: "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.'"
History of usage
"Democrat Party" has been used from time to time by opponents of the Democratic Party and sometimes by others. The earliest known use of the term, according to the Oxford English Dictionary
, was by a London stock-market analyst, who wrote in 1890
, "Whether a little farmer from South Carolina named Tillman
is going to rule the Democrat Party in America – yet it is this, and not output, on which the proximate value of silver depends. The term was used by Herbert Hoover
in 1932, and in the late 1930s by Republicans who used it to criticize Democratic big city machines
run by powerful political bosses in what they considered undemocratic fashion. Republican leader Harold Stassen
said in 1940, "I emphasized that the party controlled in large measure at that time by Hague
in New Jersey
should not be called a 'Democratic Party.' It should be called the 'Democrat Party.'"Democrat as an adjective is still sometimes used by some twentieth-century Republicans as a campaign tool but was used with particular virulence by the late senator Joseph R. McCarthy
of Wisconsin, a Republican 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 noun-as-adjective has been used by Republican leaders since the 1940s and appears in some GOP national platforms since 1948. In 1947, Republican leader Senator Robert A. Taft said, "Nor can we expect any other policy from any Democrat Party or any Democrat President under present day conditions. They cannot possibly win an election solely through the support of the solid South, and yet their political strategists believe the Southern Democrat Party will not break away no matter how radical the allies imposed upon it. President Dwight D. Eisenhower used the term in his acceptance speech in 1952 and in partisan speeches to Republican groups. Ruth Walker notes how Joseph McCarthy repeatedly used the phrase "the Democrat Party," and critics argue that if McCarthy used the term in the 1950s, then no one else should do so. The Dan Smoot Report throughout the 50s and 60s used the phrase, almost without exception.
In 1996, the wording "Democratic Party" was removed throughout the Republican party platform. Party leaders said that they wanted to make the point that the Democratic Party had become elitist, no longer small-d democratic. In August 2008, the Republican platform committee voted down a proposal to use the phrase "Democrat Party" in the 2008 platform, deciding to use the proper "Democratic Party". "We probably should use what the actual name is," said Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, the panel's chairman. "At least in writing.
President Bush since 2001 has often used the noun-as-adjective when referring to the opposition party. Likewise, it is in common use by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
, House Minority Leader John Boehner
, Senator Charles Grassley
, Congressman Steve Buyer
, and others. George W. Bush spoke of the "Democrat majority" in his 2007 State of the Union Address
. The advance copy that was given to members of Congress read "Democratic
majority." Bush joked about his leadership of the "Republic Party" the following month.
Aside from partisan usage, the term can also be found in less partisan media. Media Matters for America, a progressive organization that monitors the media, found "Democrat Party" used (in isolated instances) by CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press.
Issues of grammar
Some believe that the use of the noun "Democrat" as an adjective is ungrammatical
on the grounds that "Democratic Party" is not a proper noun
, but a noun modified by an adjective. Using a noun as a modifier
of another noun is not, strictly speaking, grammatically incorrect in modern English
in the formation of a compound noun
, i.e. "shoe store," "school bus," "peace movement," "Senate election," etc. Americans commonly speak of "the Iraq
war" rather than "the Iraqi war."
The use of "Democrat Party" could be part of a linguistic trend. As one linguist explained, "We're losing our inflections – the special endings we use to distinguish between adjectives and nouns, for instance. There's a tendency to modify a noun with another noun rather than an adjective. Some may speak of "the Ukraine election" rather than 'the Ukrainian election' or 'the election in Ukraine,' for instance. It's 'the Iraq war' rather than 'the Iraqi war,' to give another example."
Members of the Republican Party, from political commentators to George Bush and John McCain themselves, made especially extensive use of the term "Democrat Party" during the run-up to the 2006 midterm elections. In response to the growing use of the epithet in late 2006, a corresponding epithet for the Republican Party, the "Republic Party", began to circulate in liberal parts of the blogosphere
; the previous Republican waves of usage had inspired the "Publican
Party", but this failed to catch on.
Democrats complained about the use of "Democrat" as an adjective in the 2007 State of the Union address by President Bush. "Like nails on a chalkboard," complained Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta. Political analyst Charlie Cook attributed its use to force of habit rather than a deliberate epithet by Republicans: "[They] have been doing it so long that they probably don't even realize they're doing it." On February 4, 2007, Bush joked in a speech to House Democrats, stating "Now look, my diction isn't all that good. I have been accused of occasionally mangling the English language. And so I appreciate you inviting the head of the Republic Party. Additionally, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) repeatedly invoked the phrase "The Republic Party" on the floor of the United States House of Representatives in February 2007 while lambasting Congressional Republicans.
On the other hand, the hypercorrection of using Democratic as a noun has been employed, especially in asserting bipartisanship. Charlie Crist, Republican Governor of Florida, claiming essential agreement with both of his state's Senators, said that "he'd already had communications with Senator Bill Nelson, who happens to be a Democratic.
Another corresponding noun-as-adjective response has also begun to circulate on the Internet: "The Republicans Party. Members of the Democratic Underground have proposed that "Republicon Party" be used as a counter to the Republican adoption of "Democrat Party" as a putdown. Sherman Yellen suggested "The Republicants" as suitably comparable in terms of negative connotation in an April 29, 2007 Huffington Post commentary
- Roy H. Copperud, American Usage and Style: The Consensus 1980, pages 101-102.
- Ignace Feuerlicht. "Democrat Party," , American Speech, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Oct., 1957), pp. 228-231 online in JSTOR
- Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage 1998, p. 196.
- Hendrik Hertzberg. "The 'IC' Factor" The New Yorker, August 7, 2006.
- John Lyman, "Democrat Party," American Speech, Vol. 33, No. 3 (October 1958), pp. 239-40 in JSTOR notes term as used by some Democrats in Maryland.
- Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, 1994, pp 328-29, page 667.
- Geoffrey Nunberg. "The Case for Democracy" in "Fresh Air" commentary, January 19, 2005 (radio broadcast).
- Geoffrey Nunberg, Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show 2006.
- William Safire, Safire's New Political Dictionary (1993).
- Hans Sperber and Travis Trittschuh. American Political Terms: An Historical Dictionary (1962) pages 117-23.
- Walker, Ruth. "Republicans, Democrats, and the Afghan on the couch" Christian Science Monitor, January 27, 2005
- "Democrats Find Ally In Republican Camp", UPI, August 17, 1984.