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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