Friday, March 04, 2005

Anti-Democratic philippic: whither the suffix?

Those of you who have ever heard a right-wing politician speak, or tuned in to Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, might wonder why they can’t seem to speak the full adjective we use to neutrally refer to the oldest surviving political party in America. Why can’t they pronounce it right? Are they stupid? Well, no; they just sound that way.

Those of us in that party call it the Democratic Party, which is its name. These folks will say Democrat Party, as if they meant a celebration thrown by some members of that party. This is ridiculous, particularly in light recent elections, which haven’t given the Democrats much reason to celebrate. So why do they do it?

Well, the whole Democrat Party thing started in the 1950s. It was a desultory term thrown about by the famously paranoid Senator Joe McCarthy (R-Wisconsin). The idea was to pluck some of the dignity from the Democrats, by abridging their name. It also seemed to suggest that the Democrats couldn’t possibly be democratic, since they’re so lousy with creeping socialists. They divorced the name from democracy, making Democrats seem like something alien from democracy. These louts took the Democrats’ name away from them.

This weird habit trailed off after Senator McCarthy’s decline into alcoholism. It started to make a comeback in the 1970s, when the Republicans started shifting to the right, and felt they needed to get nasty again. They still do it. It’s little more than a snub.

It’s kind of useful, though. Any person or media that refer to the Democrat Party can be written off as unreliable. One caution there is that the British and French say Democrat Party, too, but that’s probably more due to the fact that since there’s no party in those countries called the Democratic Party, but there is the word democratic in both languages, so it’s reasonable that there could be confusion in those countries.

I suppose we should be a little grateful to the right wing for identifying themselves so readily by shooting out this little jibe. It annoys me, yeah, despite the shorthand it offers in decoding a speaker, news article or TV broadcast. And besides: when was politics ever polite in the first place? This is more of your caustic Republican nastiness, displayed through overt disrespect for those who are not of their group. In other words: it’s just Republican business as usual.

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