When Sen. Thurston Ballard Morton became chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1959, he made a strange pledge: to refer to the party of his political opponents as the Democratic Party. This was, on the one hand, unremarkable; the party was, after all, called the Democratic Party.
But in calling the Democratic Party by its name, Morton was contrasting himself with his predecessor, who instead referred to the Democrats as the “Democrat Party.” Sen. Barry Goldwater also used “Democrat Party” instead of “Democratic Party.”
While it may seem like a simple slipup, Alcorn and Goldwater were actually engaging in a kind of linguistic joust with their political counterparts. As Oxford Dictionaries explains, dropping the -ic from “Democratic” allows Republicans to refer to the Democrats while “[maintaining] a distinction from the broader, positive associations of the adjective democratic with democracy and egalitarianism.”
Alcorn and Goldwater weren’t the first Republicans to use this derogatory form. In fact, by the late 1950s, the tradition was well established in the Republican Party.Writing in 2006 for the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus found that “William Safire traced an early usage to Harold Stassen, who was managing Wendell Willkie’s 1940 campaign against Franklin D. Roosevelt.” Stassen said that a party run by political bosses “should be called the ‘Democrat party,’ not the ‘Democratic Party.’”
The Columbia Guide to Standard American English notes that “Democrat as an adjective … was used with particular virulence by the late senator Joseph 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 be democratic.”
In 1984, Rep. Jack Kemp, a New York Republican, opposed an amendment to the Republican Party’s platform that would have referred to the “Democrat Party” rather than the “Democratic Party.” Kemp said that such a change would be “an insult to our Democratic friends.”
George W. Bush was one of the most notorious abusers of the adjective-to-noun formulation. Marcus, the Post reporter, recounted a series of such uses:
“‘There are people in the Democrat Party who think they can spend your money far better than you can,’ [Bush] 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.’”
According to Marcus, Bush used ‘Democrat’ as an adjective five times in the day after his 2004 election victory.
In a 2009 interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Rep. Darrel Issa (R.-Calif.) complained about the spending habits of the “Democrat congress.” But Matthews wasn’t having it. “I think the Democratic Party calls itself the Democratic Party, not the Democrat Party. Do we have to do this every night? Why do people talk like this?” he asked. “They call themselves the Democratic Party. Let’s just call people what they call themselves and stop the Mickey Mouse here. Save that for the stump.”
This brings us to Rep. Erik Paulsen, who recently published an editorial criticizing Minnesota Democratic Sens. Franken and Klobuchar for blocking the appointment of David Stras to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. And in that editorial, Paulsen writes, “The reason for the delay is that Stras’ nomination is being held up by Minnesota’s Democrat U.S. senators — Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.”
Here is Rep. Erik Paulsen, who not so long ago previously called for “civility and respect in our political discourse,” deploying what amounts to a schoolyard taunt.
The issue gets at the heart of who Paulsen really is. While Jack Kemp refused to support the rest of his party as they sought to play petty name games, Rep. Paulsen clearly lacks both the maturity and the leadership qualities necessary to treat his counterparts across the aisle as equals.
Perhaps if we start calling him Erika Paleson he’d get the message.
Featured image via YouTube.