The amazing liberal vapors over President Bush’s use of the word "Democrat" to describe, er, Democrats, continues. In an NPR interview with Juan Williams, President Bush claimed it was a simple mistake in his State of the Union speech, but liberals quickly found more of these grievous offenses in searching speech texts at the White House website. Certain left-wing media critics who lay face down in worship at the feet of Hillary Clinton are now insisting that the word "Democrat" is a "smear" and an "oft-used Republican slur." The Washington Post and The New York Times each produced stories on Bush's denial of this microscopic scandal. (Clay Waters handled it at Times Watch here.)
But my favorite fuss comes from former Newsweek reporter and Carter speechwriter Hendrik Hertzberg at The New Yorker, who says the plain D-word is "jarring verging on ugly. It fairly screams ‘rat.’" He then imagined Republicans want to destroy the Democrats like Israel’s enemies want to wipe out Israel, and compared them to a street gang:
An alternative view is that it’s called the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party itself takes this view, and many nonpartisan authorities agree. The American Heritage College Dictionary, for example, 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, a 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 WashPost account from Michael Abramowitz added this nugget, that Democrat-leaning White House reporters were hyperventilating in the briefing room:
White House press secretary Tony Snow seemed peeved with reporters asking about the Bush mispronunciation at his morning press "gaggle" yesterday, accusing the reporters of making "three mountains out of a molehill" and suggesting that the press was not much interested when Democrats bashed Bush with language calling him a "loser" or a "liar."