Why do Republicans Keep Calling it the "Democrat Party"?Roundup
tags: Republican Party, political history, Democratic Party
“Who has taken the ‘ic’ out of the party of our fathers?” asked John Temple Graves II, a Southern newspaper columnist, in July 1952. Graves had observed speaker after speaker at the recent Republican National Convention call their political foes the “Democrat” party. “This must be their way of reminding us that the Democratic party isn’t what it used to be,” he averred.
Graves was referring to the Republican practice of purposely misnaming the opposition by chopping the last two letters off its name, a habit that, more than 70 years later, not only continues, but according to the Associated Press last year, is “on the rise.”
The conservative columnist George Sokolsky may have been on point in 1956 when he wrote, “When a political party is led to believe that it can downgrade its opponent by removing an adjectival suffix from its name, it reduces itself to childishness.” But instances of the use of the childish ploy have not abated. Witness recent books by conservative writers with titles like Freedom Trumps Socialism: How the Democrat Party is Using Hitler’s Playbook to Make America Socialist, The True And Detailed Racist History Of The Democrat Party: 1830-2020, and Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation.
Democrats like Harry S. Truman occasionally responded to the “Democrat” label by calling their opponents the “Publican” party, and others offered the “Republicrat” party. But Democrats never systematically pushed these misnomers, and they’ve remained largely out of the public conversation.
Commentators have long sought to explain the infantile, but persistent and aggressive, Republican habit of labeling the Democratic Party as the “Democrat” party, among them William Safire, Hendrik Hertzberg, and Ruth Marcus. The New York Times’ Russell Baker did so twice, first as a reporter in 1956 and then as a columnist 20 years later. These analyses have been illuminating, but for the most part, they have not tracked the origins of this strange “verbal tic,” as the “ic” is “hard to pin down with any precision,” as Hertzberg wrote. Some have (incorrectly) fingered Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin senator and anti-communist zealot from the 1950s, as the coiner of the phrase, or have associated it with “the right-wing extremists of the John Birch Society.” In 1984, Safire interviewed Harold Stassen, a Republican politician from Minnesota, who claimed to have coined it in 1940, but Stassen provided no evidence of this to Safire at the time, and I’ve found none in the record.
So, what is the history of this strange locution? Tracking the origins of the missing “ic” provides an instructive window into the evolution of modern conservatism. For although “Democrat party” has been employed for at least seven decades, it has been a shifting signifier. Tracing the history of the phrase helps us understand how the Republican Party has defined itself by what it was not. The phrase has always been about “othering” the Democratic Party, but the meaning of the slur has shifted significantly in politically telling ways.
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