They Did It With “Liberal”, Let’s Not Let Them Do It to Democrat(ic)

There is no insult that comes rolling off Republican tongues with as much venom as their misuse of the noun “Democrat” as an adjective. It’s a semantic argument, but Republicans have won a lot of votes making semantic arguments: death tax, partial birth abortion, and death panels. Semantics, clearly, count. 

So let’s look at the semantics of “Democrat Party”:

  1. “Democrat” sounds harsh. It has a hard ending that flows into almost no other word -- which makes sense, because it’s a noun developed to stand on its own. “Democrat Party” is the rhetorical equivalent of, for example, “person chair” -- nonsense that, political commentator William Safire wrote, “does conveniently rhyme with autocrat, plutocrat, and worst of all, bureaucrat”.
  2. “Democratic,” on the other hand, has an instinctively positive ring to it, evoking the American ideals of of fairness and self-governance. It is what our nation has tried to be since its inception -- since before it’s enception. Imbued with this association, it confers positivity, making us sound like the good guys Republicans don’t want us to be.

I don’t blame Republicans if they feel a little semantic envy here. They’re trying to use insistent relabeling of the Democratic Party to make their own label sound better -- more democratic, in fact. They’ve spent years saying it over and over, to the point where Democrats have basically given up.

I think ignoring this small, semantic point is a big mistake.

It would behoove Democrats to defend the name of their party. We should make a big deal out of emphasizing both the dropped suffix AND the differences in meaning it represents -- the difference between rule by the people and rule by a permanent elite. The difference between open voting and voter suppression. The difference between proportional representation and gerrymandered safe districts.

We should come out swinging every time a Republican complains about “Democrat policies” or “Democrat priorities”. We should insist Republicans get it right, and reclaim ”Democratic”  because that’s what we are and they aren’t..

It won’t work on everyone. Established, loyal Republicans will always obey their resentments. But new voters are being minted all the time. Increasingly, they’re choosing not to register for either party. The best way for us to to capture those 18 year-olds is by presenting something positive. We’re Democratic. The other guys aren’t.

Written by Julie Stewart

The People's House Project