Blogs > Cliopatria > When did Republicans begin referring to the "Democrat Party"?

Feb 2, 2007 1:26 pm

When did Republicans begin referring to the "Democrat Party"?

THE SCRAPBOOK couldn't help but notice that, in the course of his State of the Union address last week, President Bush congratulated the new "Democrat majority" in Congress, which sat politely if not clamorously in front of him. THE SCRAPBOOK wasn't seated in the great chamber of the House of Representatives, to be sure; but when we heard that phrase, we wondered if a ripple of discontent could be felt on the, um, Democratic side.

For this particular mode of description--"Democrat" for "Democratic" party--has the effect of sending certain Democrats into a frenzy. Which, of course, is precisely the point: When Barry Goldwater chose Rep. William E. Miller of New York as his vice-presidential running mate in 1964, he explained his decision to reporters by saying that Miller "drives Lyndon Johnson nuts." Sending Democrats into orbit is an old and honored tradition in Republican politics.

Frankly, THE SCRAPBOOK doubts that President Bush meant to do that; but whatever his intention, that is what he succeeded in doing. The next morning, on NPR's "Diane Rehm Show," both the venerable hostess and her two guests--onetime Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta and former Republican congressman Vin Weber--struggled to explain both the meaning and origin of the rhetorical practice of referring to the Democratic party as the "Democrat" party.

"It's like fingernails on a chalkboard," complained Podesta. Neither he nor Weber nor Diane Rehm herself knew how it started. The Washington Post devoted a whole story to the subject--albeit in the

Style section--which shed no light on the question. And on CNN, Democratic vulgarian Paul Begala was close to tears of frustration: "It tells you what's in [Bush's] heart," he exclaimed. "It tells you that he has no damn desire to compromise."

At which point, we realized that we had arrived at what educators call a Teachable Moment, for the invention of the "Democrat" party seems to have fallen down the Washington memory hole, which is not very deep. To the best of THE SCRAPBOOK's knowledge--which is pretty good, but not infallible--the phrase originated with Leonard W. Hall, a onetime Republican congressman from New York and chairman of the Republican National Committee during Dwight D. Eisenhower's first term in the White House (1953-57). It was Hall's intention to suggest that (a) the Democrats, the party of urban machines and union bosses, were not especially "democratic," and that (b) innocent schoolchildren should not confuse the adjective "democratic" with the Democratic party.

In his effort to tease the Democrats of the Adlai Stevenson era, Len Hall, who died in 1979, seems to have succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The phrase is still routinely used by politicians and speechwriters, and is even, unwittingly, employed by journalists--of the TV variety, that is, including the BBC....

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