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Democrat Party (epithet)


Democrat Party (epithet)

"Democrat Party" is a political epithet used in the United States for the Democratic Party. The term has been used in negative or hostile fashion by conservative commentators and members of the Republican Party in party platforms, partisan speeches and press releases since at least 1940.[1]

Multiple reasons are suggested for the use of the term. A 1984 New York Times article suggested Republicans began to use the term when Democrats used their own party name to imply "they are the only true adherents of democracy."[2] Republicans "feared that 'Democratic' suggested Democrats [had] a monopoly on or are somehow the anointed custodians of the concept of democracy."[3] New Yorker commentator Hendrik Hertzberg wrote, "There’s no great mystery about the motives behind this deliberate misnaming. 'Democrat Party' is a slur, or intended to be—a handy way to express contempt. Aesthetic judgments are subjective, of course, but 'Democrat Party' is jarring verging on ugly. It fairly screams 'rat.'"[4] Political analyst Charlie Cook attributed modern use of the term to force of habit rather than a deliberate epithet by Republicans.[5] Ruth Marcus stated that Republicans likely only continue to employ the term because Democrats dislike it.[6] Marcus stated that disagreements over use of the term are "trivial",[6] and Hertzberg calls use of the term "a minor irritation" and also "the partisan equivalent of flashing a gang sign."[4]

Similar two-word phrases using "Democrat" as an adjective have been deemed controversial when used as a substitute for "Democratic" (as in "Democrat idea"); National Public Radio has banned the use of "Democrat" as an adjective.[7] The term "Democrat Party" was in common use with no negative connotations by Democrats in some localities during the 1950s.[8] The Dictionary of American Regional English gives numerous examples of "Democrat" being used as an adjective in everyday speech, especially in the Northeast.[9]


  • History of usage 1
  • Modern usage 2
  • Grammar 3
  • Responses 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7

History of usage

The history of the term has been a subject of interest to scholars.[1][8][10][11] The [14]

Although the term "Democrat Party" prior to the mid-nineteenth century was usually simply a value-neutral synonym for the more common "Democratic Party", after the Civil War and the rise of the modern Republican Party the term "Democrat Party" began to be used occasionally in a derogatory fashion. For example, New Hampshire Republican Congressman (later Senator) Jacob H. Gallinger addressing a gathering of Michigan Republicans in 1889, said “The great Democrat party, laying down the sceptre of power in 1860, after ruling this country under free trade for a quarter of a century, left our treasury bankrupt, and gave as a legacy to the Republican party, a gigantic rebellion and a treasury without a single dollar of money in it.” [15]

William Safire has studied the partisan use of "Democrat Party" as epithet since the 1940 presidential campaign of Republican Wendell Willkie. Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen, Willkie's campaign manager, explained to Safire his motivation for using the term: Stassen said that because the Democratic Party was at that time partly controlled by undemocratic city bosses—"by Hague in New Jersey, Pendergast in Missouri and Kelly-Nash in Chicago, [it] should not be called a 'Democratic Party.' It should be called the 'Democrat Party.'"[16]

The noun-as-adjective has been used by Republican leaders since the 1940s, and in most GOP national platforms since 1948.[17] By the early 1950s the term was in widespread use among Republicans of all factions.[10] In 1968, Congressional Quarterly reported that at its national convention "the GOP did revert to the epithet of 'Democrat' party. The phrase had been used in 1952 and 1956 but not in 1960."[18]

Use of the term has been a point of contention within the Republican Party. In 1984, when a delegate of the Republican platform committee asked unanimous consent to change a platform amendment to read the Democrat Party instead of Democratic Party, New York Representative Jack Kemp objected, saying that would be "an insult to our Democratic friends" and the committee dropped the proposal.[2] In 1996, the wording throughout the Republican party platform was changed from "Democratic Party" to "Democrat Party": Republican leaders "explained they wanted to make the subtle point that the Democratic Party had become elitist".[19] A proposal to use the term again in the August 2008 Republican Platform for similar reasons was voted down with leaders choosing to use "Democratic Party". "We probably should use what the actual name is," said Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, the panel's chairman. "At least in writing."[19]

The term has also been used by Third Party candidate Ralph Nader.[20]

Modern usage

Following his inauguration in 2001, Indianapolis, 17th Ward Democrat Club Inc." and the "Andrew Jackson Democrat Club Of Tippecanoe County." [34]

Republicans sometimes have used the noun "Democrat" as an adjective during Congressional debate.[35][36][37]


Some grammarians believe that the use of the noun "Democrat" as an adjective is ungrammatical.[38] However, the use of a noun as a modifier of another noun is not grammatically incorrect in modern English in the formation of a compound noun, e.g., "shoe store," "school bus," "peace movement," etc.[39] The use of nouns as adjectives is part of a broader linguistic trend, according to language expert Ruth Walker, who claims, "We're losing our inflections—the special endings we use to distinguish between adjectives and nouns, for instance. There's a tendency to modify a noun with another noun rather than an adjective. Some may speak of "the Ukraine election" rather than 'the Ukrainian election' or 'the election in Ukraine,' for instance. It's 'the Iraq war' rather than 'the Iraqi war,' to give another example."[40]

In American history many parties were named by their opponents (Federalists, Loco-Focos, Know Nothings, Populists, Dixiecrats), including the Democrats themselves, as the Federalists in the 1790s used "Democratic Party" as a term of ridicule.[41]


Delegates to the Democratic National Committee once proposed using "Publican Party" instead of "Republican Party". The committee failed to accept the proposal "explaining that Republican is the name by which the our opponents' product is known and mistrusted."[1] Sherman Yellen suggested "The Republicants" as suitably comparable in terms of negative connotation in an April 29, 2007 Huffington Post commentary.[42] Other progressive blogs such as Daily Kos use the term "Republicon", to emphasize that the conservative wing of the Republican party has occasionally appeared; it suggests they "are con artists, evil, and after your money."[43][44]

On the February 26, 2009 edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews, Republican Representative Darrell Issa referred to "a Democrat Congress". The host, Chris Matthews, took exception, saying:

Well, I think the Democratic Party calls itself the Democratic Party, not the Democrat Party. Do we have to do this every night? Why do people talk like this? Is this just fighting words to get the name on?[45]

Issa denied that he intended to use "fighting words". Matthews replied, "They call themselves the Democratic Party. Let’s just call people what they call themselves and stop the Mickey Mouse here—save that for the stump."[45]

In March 2009, after Representative Jeb Hensarling (R–Texas) repeatedly used the phrase "Democrat Party" when questioning U.S. Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag, Representative Marcy Kaptur (D–Ohio) said:

I’d like to begin by saying to my colleague from Texas that there isn’t a single member on this side of the aisle that belongs to the “Democrat Party.” We belong to the Democratic Party. So the party you were referring to doesn’t even exist. And I would just appreciate the courtesy when you’re referring to our party, if you’re referring to the Democratic Party, to refer to it as such.[46]


  1. ^ a b c Safire (1993), pp. 163–164
  2. ^ a b "Democrats Find Ally In Republican Camp". New York Times (UPI). August 17, 1984. 
  3. ^ Roy H. Copperud, American Usage and Style: The Consensus (Van Nostrand 1980) pp. 101–2
  4. ^ a b  
  5. ^ a b c d e Copleand, Libby (2007-01-25). "President's Sin of Omission? (Dropped Syllable in Speech Riles Democrats)".  
  6. ^ a b c d  
  7. ^ Ron Elving, the senior Washington editor of NPR, says the term "Democrat" should not be used as an adjective. "We should not refer to Democrat ideas or Democrat votes. Any deviation from that by NPR reporters on air or on line should be corrected." Ombudsman, "Since When Did It Become the Democrat Party?," NPR March 26, 2010, online
  8. ^ a b Lyman (1958)
  9. ^ Frederic Gomes Cassidy and Joan Houston Hall. eds, Dictionary of American Regional English: Volume 2 (1991) pp. 37–38, 1036
  10. ^ a b Feuerlicht (1957)
  11. ^ Sperber and Trittschuh (1962)
  12. ^ OED under "Democrat" 4 citing the London Spectator 15 Nov. 1890 p. 676.
  13. ^ Google Books Ngram Viewer – search of American English, 1800–2008, for Democrat party,Democrat Party [1](run 2012-11-16).
  14. ^ Sedgwick, Catharine Maria. "A Reminiscence of Federalism" in Goodrich, S.O.,ed. The Token and Atlantic Souvenir: A Christman and New Year's Present. Charles Bowen: Boston. 1834 [2]
  15. ^ Report of the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Michigan Club. 1890
  16. ^ Safire (1988), p. 35
  17. ^ National Party Platforms, 1840–1996, editors Kirk H. Porter, and Donald Bruce Johnson, (1996).
  18. ^ Congressional Quarterly, The Presidential nominating conventions, 1968 (1968) p. 9
  19. ^ a b Woodward, Calvin (August 26, 2008). "No more 'Democrat wars' for GOP spinmeisters?". Associated Press. Retrieved 2010-10-25. 
  20. ^ See "Transcript: Ralph Nader on 'Meet The Press' Sunday, May 7, 2000" at [3]; "Presidential candidate Ralph Nader makes stop in Minnesota; sees little difference between Bush, Kerry," Oct 27, 2004, at [4]
  21. ^ "Bush Courts Black Voters at Urban League" by the Associated Press, July 23, 2004.
  22. ^ "DeLay: Democratic Party Unfit to Lead", Fox News, July 26, 2003.
  23. ^ "Pelosi's Big Day", Slate, January 4, 2007.
  24. ^ "Alito: No Person Is Above the Law", Fox News, January 9, 2006.
  25. ^ "Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment", CNN, December 18, 1998.
  26. ^ Official 2007 State of the Union Transcript
  27. ^ E.g., Lutenberg, Jim (2007-01-30). "No Offense, but... (The President)".   (failing to reference that Bush deviated from prepared text during the speech)
  28. ^ Noam H. Levey (February 4, 2007). "Bush reaches across Partisan divide". Los Angeles Times. 
  29. ^ Abramowitz, Michael; Kane, Paul (2007-02-04). "At Democrats' Meeting, Bush Appeals for Cooperation".  
  30. ^ See his usage at his website
  31. ^ Matthew E. Berger (November 3, 2008). "Palin Talk Taxes, Slows Pace; Governor Stays Honed On Tax Attack In Final Stretch". National Journal. 
  32. ^ John M. Broder and Julie Bosman (November 2, 2008). "In States Once Reliably Red, Palin and Biden Tighten Their Stump Speeches". New York Times. 
  33. ^ John Solomon (October 11, 2006). "Democrat leader reaped $1.1 million from sale of land he didn't own". USA Today. 
  34. ^ "Indiana Secretary of State website". Retrieved 2010-10-08. 
  35. ^ "Congressional Record for February 7, 2012, p. H546" (PDF). February 7, 2012. Rep.  
  36. ^ "Congressional Record for February 6, 2012, p. H546" (PDF). February 6, 2012. Rep.  
  37. ^ "Congressional Record for February 3, 2012, p. H546" (PDF). February 3, 2012. Rep.  
  38. ^ Copperud, American Usage and Style: The Consensus (1980) pp. 101–2
  39. ^ Jean Yates, (2006) p, 64Master the Basics: English
  40. ^ Ruth Walker, Jan. 27, 2005Christian Science Monitor"Republicans, Democrats, and the Afghan on the couch,"
  41. ^ Safire, (1993), 176
  42. ^ Yellen, Sherman (2007-04-29). "The Republicants". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2010-10-25. 
  43. ^ "The New Word: Republicon".  
  44. ^ "RepubliCON Watch".  
  45. ^ a b Mullins, Anne Schroeder (February 26, 2009). "Don't call Democrats, Democrats!".  
  46. ^ "Rep. Kaptur scolds GOP: ‘Democrat Party’ doesn’t exist". March 3, 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-04. 


  • This article incorporates material from the Citizendium article "Democrat Party (epithet)", which is licensed under the but not under the .
  • Copperud, Roy H. (1980). American Usage and Style: The Consensus. pp. 101–102. 
  • Feuerlicht, Ignace. "Democrat Party", American Speech, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Oct., 1957), pp. 228–231 (online in JSTOR)
  • Lyman, John (October 1958). "Democrat Party". American Speech 33 (3): 239–40.  
  • Nunberg, Geoffrey (2005). "The Case for Democracy", "Fresh Air" commentary (radio broadcast), January 19, 2005
  • Nunberg, Geoffrey (2006), Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show, 2006.
  • Safire, William (1988). You Could Look It Up: More on Language. Times Books. 
  • Safire, William (1993). Safire's New Political Dictionary. Random House.  
  • Sperber, Hans; Trittschuh, Travis (1962). American Political Terms: An Historical Dictionary. pp. 117–23. 
  • Walker, Ruth. "Republicans, Democrats, and the Afghan on the couch", , January 27, 2005Christian Science Monitor

Further reading

  • Garner, Bryan A. (1998). A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. p. 196. 
  • Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. 1994. pp. 328–29, 667. 
"Democrat" has been used as an adjective by

Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin used the term during the 2008 United States presidential campaign.[31][32]

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh uses the term exclusively when referring to Democrats.[30]

Bush later joked about the issue by talking about his leadership of the "Republic Party" the following month.[28] On February 4, 2007, Bush joked in a speech to House Democrats, stating "Now look, my diction isn't all that good. I have been accused of occasionally mangling the English language. And so I appreciate you inviting the head of the Republic Party."[29]

Bush spoke of the "Democrat majority" in his 2007 State of the Union Address.[26] The advance copy that was given to members of Congress read "Democratic majority."[5] Democrats again complained about the use of "Democrat" as an adjective in the address: John Podesta, White House Chief of Staff for Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton, complained that it was "like nails on a chalkboard".[5] Some commentators ignored Bush's slur against the newly elected Democratic majority;[27] others debated whether Bush was intentionally using the term as a slur. Congressional historian Julian E. Zelizer said "It's hard to disentangle whether that's an intentional slight".[5] Political analyst Charlie Cook doubted it was a deliberate attempt to offend Democrats saying Republicans "have been doing it [using the term] so long that they probably don't even realize they're doing it."[5]

[6] Marcus went on to say the argument about the term was "trivial, sticks-and-stones [...] linguistic bickering".[6]", and she chastised Bush, alleging he was being intentionally offensive.the recent campaign, noted that "[t]he derisive use of 'Democrat' in this way was a Bush staple during The Washington Post, a columnist for Ruth Marcus and other Republicans. In 2006, [25],Indiana of Steve Buyer Representative [24],Iowa of Charles Grassley Senator [23],Ohio of John Boehner Speaker of the House of Representatives [22],Tom DeLay Representative and House Majority Leader Texas Likewise, it has been used by former [21]

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