NPR logo Whither "Democrat" (As An Adjective)

Whither "Democrat" (As An Adjective)

As a producer here, I regularly screen calls and check emails. (You can read about how to get on Talk of the Nation here.)

A couple of weeks ago, Rep. Bob Barr joined us, to talk about his candidacy for president. During that segment, Lynn Neary asked him why he left the Republican party. This was how he answered the question:

As some of us older folks remember, years ago when a fellow named Ronald Reagan was asked a similar question about why he left the Democrat Party and at the time joined the Republican Party, he said he didn't leave the Democrat Party, the Democrat Party left him. And that's very much how I feel, and a lot of sort of Libertarian-leaning Republicans feel that the new Republican Party — the Republican Party of this early 21st century — has veered so sharply from its fiscal conservancy roots, from its respect for individual liberty and its fighting for smaller government.

Almost immediately, our inbox filled with angry emails from listeners. Not about the substance of Barr's answer, but about his use of "Democrat" instead of "Democratic."

"Please let Bob Barr know that we are the Democratic Party, NOT the DEMOCRAT Party," Gilda wrote.

From Jim: "Would you please be so kind as to inform your guest, the esteemed Mr. Barr, that "democrat" is a noun, and that the term "democratic" is the adjective form of that word that is typically used to modify the term 'party.'"

Other emails categorized "Democrat," used as an adjective without the "-ic," as "an insult."

Is it?

In The New Yorker, back in 1996, Hendrik Hertzberg asked, "What is the name of a certain political party in the United States — not the one which controls the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government but the other one, which doesn't? The question is a small one, to be sure: a minor irritation, a wee gnat compared to such red-clawed, sharp-toothed horrors as the health-care mess and the budget deficit, to say nothing of Iraq and Lebanon. But it has been around longer than any of them, and, annoyingly, it won't go away."

"There's no great mystery about the motives behind this deliberate misnaming," he continues. "'Democrat Party' is a slur, or intended to be — a handy way to express contempt."

What do you think? Is the adjectival "Democrat" an insult? Do you think politicians and pundits use it deliberately, or out of laziness? Does it rile you? Why?



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Is there a Republic Party? No, there isn't. Democrat Party is either a slur or a sign of ignorance or both.

Sent by Elaine | 1:29 PM | 8-19-2008

Democrat is a noun. Democratic is an adjective. Does one refer to the 'Republic' Party? Barr is ignorant.

Sent by Gordon Sabaduquia | 1:47 PM | 8-19-2008

It's similar to referring to a left-leaning person as a "librul".

So count me in the "its an insult" camp. Names have power. Changing names, even subtly, is a form of asserting control over someone.

Sent by Paul Weimer | 2:02 PM | 8-19-2008

The only "Democrat" parties are Britain's Liberal Democrat Party and Thailand's Democrat Party. Perhaps the Republicans are running against them?

Also, the "Republic Party" doesn't seem a proper response to "Democrat Party" slight. (Indeed, it is a slight: I wouldn't go so far as to call it a slur.) I propose a proportional response would be for each reference to the "Democrat Party", Democrats get one use of "Republicant".

Pardon the nit-pick here, but the Democratic Party did control the executive branch in 1996; the article is from 2006. (Perhaps showing how '-tic'd off they were, the Democrats took the legislative branch shortly thereafter.)

Sent by Colin Quinlan | 10:26 PM | 8-19-2008

Two points:

If my name is Joanne and you persist in calling me Joanie, even after being repeatedly corrected, I have to assume you're trying to annoy and/or undermine me.

The use of "Democrat" as an adjective reminds me of the use of "Jew" as an adjective, e.g. "that Jew lawyer." I'm not sure why it's so insulting, but it is.

Sent by janet | 1:58 AM | 8-20-2008

Oh, so that's how you say it. I always thought it was pronounced "Republocrat".

Sent by Tony | 11:18 AM | 8-20-2008

More like: ReThuglicans and Invertebrates (Take a HINT, Pelosi... IMPEACH!!)

Sent by John Goeckermann | 5:21 PM | 8-20-2008

Democrat Party of Democratic Party? A communist by any other name is still a communist.

Sent by mlm27 | 3:08 AM | 8-22-2008

Of course it's a slight. Doesn't it seem odd that this term is used almost entirely by Republicans? They don't want to call it the Democratic party because that sounds like the form of government. They think that to use democratic as the adjectival form of Democrat gives the party more honor than it deserves, as though it alone stems from democracy.

Sent by Steven Palmer | 1:33 PM | 9-9-2008