Why the GOP uses the epithet “Democrat Party”

The ardent wing-nuttery of E.W. Jackson, the Virginia GOP’s nominee for lieutenant governor, has already been well-documented. (Jackson thinks Obama’s a Muslim, Democrats are worse than the KKK, and gays are pedophiles.)

What hasn’t been talked about has been E.W. Jackson’s insistence on using a racist, Lee Atwater-era dog whistle to refer to his political opponents.

In the video below, you’ll note that Jackson refuses to use the term “Democratic Party,” instead opting for the harsher “Democrat Party.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oi_KaZ53eDg&w=560&h=315]

The use of the term “Democrat Party” as a pejorative epithet dates back to the 1940s.  I’d argue that it’s an earlier version of Lee Atwater’s infamous racist Southern Strategy by which the GOP could reach out to racists in a way that didn’t appear overtly racist.

First, “Democrat party” is grammatically incorrect. Parties are typically preceded by adjectives instead of nouns (Republican, Green, Libertarian, etc.). The only major (if you can call it that) American political party not preceded by an adjective is the Constitution Party.

Second, by calling us the Democrat Party instead of the Democratic Party, Republicans make the word less pleasant sounding; Democratic is a softer sound to the ear than Democrat, which ends in “rat,” a harsher sound.

Third, there’s the “rat” issue.  I’d written before about the GOP’s subliminal use of the word “rat” in advertising.  Watch this old GOP campaign ad:

Did you see it? If not, start the video again at 0:20 and look for the word “RATS.” It flashes very quickly. I grabbed a screen shot below – it took a few tries.

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 10.33.23 PM

The RNC dismissed accusations of “subliminal advertising” in this spot as a production error and dismissed the notion that such advertising would be effective in the first place, but a laboratory replication of the ad (using “RATS” as the prime and “STAR,” the reverse, as a control) showed that the prime did significantly reduce participants’ opinion of a hypothetical presidential candidate.

The term “Democrat Party” was coined for precisely for the linguistic reasons outlined above: the “Democratic Party” is just another political organization, while the “Democrat Party” is a bunch of rats and similar less-than-human life forms. And who does the racist wing of the GOP consider less-than-human? The 47%, who they universally think of as unemployed, un-American, on welfare, and black.  Which makes it especially ironic that Jackson is using the term.

And it’s not the first time Republicans tried to rebrand the Democratic name.  It was only four years ago that the Republicans decided they were going to call the Democratic Party the “Democrat Socialist Party.”

A member of the Republican National Committee told me Tuesday that when the RNC meets in an extraordinary special session next week, it will approve a resolution rebranding Democrats as the “Democrat Socialist Party.”

When I asked if such a resolution would force RNC Chairman Michael Steele to use that label when talking about Democrats in all his speeches and press releases, the RNC member replied: “Who cares?”

Which pretty much sums up the attitude some members of the RNC have toward their chairman these days.

Steele wrote a memo last month opposing the resolution. Steele said that while he believes Democrats “are indeed marching America toward European-style socialism,” he also said in a (rare) flash of insight that officially referring to them as the Democrat Socialist Party “will accomplish little than to give the media and our opponents the opportunity to mischaracterize Republicans.”

You gotta love Steele’s “defense” of Democrats.  Democrats are socialists – which in Republican minds means “Soviet communists” –  but if Republicans actually say what they think, people may see the GOP for what they really are, and that might hurt Republicans at the ballot box.

Of course, we could always return the favor and insist on calling Virginia’s Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor something close-but-not-correct (Ewww Jackson has a nice ring to it).  But I don’t like playing these games.  The intentional use of incorrect nomenclature is that it implies a fundamental lack of respect for your opponent. It’s people like E.W. Jackson who make it impossible to have civil political discourse since they don’t respect their political opponents at a fundamental level.  The same way that people who call the President a socialist clearly hate the man, and our party, at a core, visceral level that has nothing to do with politics, other than the politics of fear.

And considering E.W. Jackson is running on a ticket that plans to ban all oral sex, unlike the GOP, we don’t need to resort to name-calling to convince voters that Republicans are unfit for office.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • ReeFungorio

    I can’t remember a single example of someone emphasizing the last syllable when using the word “Democrat”. Can you provide any examples? It’s funny to note that Merriam Webster emphasizes that same syllable for the word Democratic, which is the word the entire article suggests is the one that Republicans should be using.

  • ReeFungorio

    First, it is not grammatically incorrect and your stating so does nothing to change the rules of grammar. There are a multitude of political parties in our nation’s history that begin with a noun. Tea, Socialist, Bull Moose, Whig, Marijuana, Reform, Prohibition…I think if you look at the historical parties of the US there are more that start with nouns than verbs. To say that using a noun in the name of a political party is grammatically incorrect is demonstrably false.

    Second, since Democrat is so unpleasant sounding, why do you use it to describe yourselves? Why is it unpleasant sounding as an adjective but just dandy if it’s a noun?

    Third, the “rats” commercial isn’t even an example of the article’s entire premise, the use of Democrat vs Democratic–not “subliminal” campaign ads.

    It is laughable that you would cry about of a fundamental lack of respect for you as opponents while at the same time saying your own opponents are racist wing-nuts, unfit for office, and claiming that they consider black people, the unemployed and welfare recipients as less than human.

    With all of the problems we are facing as a nation, your concern about “name calling” and disrespect is duly noted as I read through the comments below about Rethuglicans, Republi-Cons, creeps, the Pig Scum Party, Repugs, etc. Very typical of a Democrat to demand standards that you do not have to abide by yourselves.

    We get it–nothing is your fault, you are perpetual victims. The world is so unfair, especially towards you. Although it’s unfortunate that you think that the solution to this inherent unfairness against losers is to insist that there be no winners, it is no surprise at all.

    I’m all for adding “ic” to anything describing Democrats. Phonetically, it’s right on the mark.

  • Whitewitch

    Wow – it really does say Rats…amazing.

  • Sally

    The difference being that the Republicans will not support an abortion I pay for myself either, nor contraception. For anyone. Ever. And that will lead to an even more patriarchal society than we have already, not to mention back alley abortions and deaths. For the poor. Rich white women always had access to safe abortions.

  • Sally

    And isn’t it interesting that the word Republican ‘swings both ways?’ while actual Republicans pretend to be staright as arrows?

  • Clevelandchick

    I’ve been calling it the Republi-Con party since online they started with that silliness again during the Bush years. They hate it. Sometimes I use the Tea Bagger Party or the John Birch Party – because that’s basically what they’ve become. Really gets their undies in a wad. They always whine that us mean old liberals are being so ‘divisive’ and ‘hateful’. They cannot take what they dish out, it’s hilarious.

  • Clevelandchick

    Jethro here has been hitting the meth again.

  • cwazycajun

    why not the republiCON party they will con youy into voteing for them them watch your money evaporate into the pockets of the wealthy and corprate sector

  • splashy79

    Agreed. I always thought of conservative as being a person that wanted to “conserve” things like the environment, rights for everyone, and make sure that debt isn’t run up. They don’t do any of those things.

  • splashy79

    Trademarks that mean nothing, since they want to take away the liberties of everyone but white males.

  • splashy79

    At least you didn’t spell whining by putting in the extra “n” for a change while you were insulting people.

  • splashy79

    Yes, it establishes right off that they are going to be creeps, so why bother with them?

  • splashy79

    All they show is that they don’t know the difference between a noun and an adjective, making them look foolish.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Did you sleep through language class? Democrat is a noun, whereas Democratic is obviously an adjective. Weirdly enough, Republican can go either way. Like it or not, we can’t change the rules of English.

    However, every group has the right to decide how they want to be addressed. Problems occur when we do not honor that right. Thusly, you may call be gay, but be very careful what else you call me.

  • pamsfriend

    My family always replies “It’s proper because we say ‘I’m a Republican’, but you say ‘I’m a Democrat not I’m a Democratic’, so we’re the ‘Republican’ party made of Republicans and you’re the ‘Democrat’ party made up of Democrats “. Not sure how to counter that one.

  • Bill_Perdue

    That’s because it’s likely you don’t have a clue about how change happens. Change occurs as a result of mass actions, not political parties like the right wing Democrat and Republican parties.

  • semoto

    Democrat — a noun. (Example: I am a Democrat.)
    Democratic — an adjective. (Example: I belong to the Democratic Party.)

    You shouldn’t say, I am a Democratic.
    You shouldn’t say, I am a member of the Democrat Party.

    It’s simply incorrect usage.

  • semoto

    Fine. It doesn’t bother you. But it’s still an obvious insult. You can see it in their smug faces as they pronounce it.

  • UncleBucky

    Actually, I think that “democratic” is the antithesis of “freedom” and “liberty”.

    Think about it: Democratic is the vote. GOPers think it is the vote of the rabble supplanting the vote of the privileged. Freedom/liberty IS the privilege of those who, by force or money, take over a thing and prevent the rabble from using it.

    They KNOW why they don’t like “Democratic”. The reason is that if we are Democratic/democratic, THEY LOSE! ;o)

  • UncleBucky

    GOPer or GOP/TPer works for me. :D

    Unfortunately, the GOPers have no shame.

  • sane37

    who are these “Leftists” people keep mentioning? I’ve never heard of a “Leftist” party.

  • alboy2

    To me it means one thing, and one thing only; pig ignorance. If you can’t even pronounce the name of your opponent’s party correctly, I begin to question your intelligence. Given that these people are Republicans, I don’t wonder for very long.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Do the Democrats support free, federally funded abortions, regardless of age?

    Neither do Republicans.

  • Jim Olson

    They won’t. That’s not the way bullies work. Ever.

  • Jim Olson

    Is that where the former President learned to pronounce the word NOO-cu-lar?

  • Bill_Perdue

    Leftists use ‘Democrat’ instead of Democratic also, because theres nothing democratic about either the internal life or the political program of the Democrat party. Other terms we use to describe them party are union busters, mad dog warmongers, enemies of the Bill of Rights and sellouts.

    Sellout, though, is a bit problematic since they were never on the side of working people, the antiwar movement and the fight for a better environment. They have nothing to sell out.

    Republicans and Democrats are just two gangs duking it out to see which is the most right wing. They’re the enemy, in equal measure.

  • Jim Olson

    Its the same as GW Bush insisting that he give a nickname to everyone around him, as he used to do. Its about power. I’m sorry, Mr. President, but please call me Dr. Olson.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Democrats are Republicans in drag.

  • indep_in_la

    No I’d call them the Pig Party since it more correctly describes them, though disparaging to pigs.

  • sophie

    Fine, most of what you are stating is true.

    However, the problem is with the Repuglican war against women, particularly reproductive rights. Yes, it IS primarily Repugs who are gleefully passing ALEC inspired anti-choice legislation, on a state by state basis.

    I live on the west coast where the majority of Dems, at the very least support reproductive rights, environmental and LGBT, civil rights, etc., Their voting records prove the point. Progressive Dems are constantly reminding Dem politicians of WHY we voted for them.

    It is a constant and never ending battle.

    But, I still would not want to see Mittens at the helm.

  • Corey

    Didn’t the real Rats take over the color red at one point because it seemed “stronger” which if true is odd because the color red is usually associated with; communism, socialism, Red China…. Also, there already I’d a Democratic Socialist Party (www.dsausa.org/) and a Communist Party USA (www.cpusa.org/) a Party for Socialism and Liberation (www.pslweb.org/), Revolution Communist Party USA,( http://www.revcom.us/) Socialist Party USA (www.sp-usa.org/) … Which btw i have given money to all of those. i don’t think Pig Scum Party (aka GOP) realized that there are many REAL socialist parties in the USA that laugh when they here Obama being described as one.

  • Tar Heel

    My family has been yellow-dog Democrats for generations in the North Carolina (most still are), and they have often self-referred to the “Democrat Party” as long as I can remember (the 1970s).

    It may have been a regional thing, but this has never bothered me or anyone folks we dealt with politically for decades. Only recently has this “This is an insult” meme popped up. It still amazes me people spend so much time on it.

  • samizdat

    Yep. Things really started to come undone when Newt and Friends got ahold of the reigns.

  • pappyvet

    I like it !

  • I’ve been around a while. I’ve watched since the early 1970s as, over the next several decades, “The distinguished Senator from (insert-a-state) makes an interesting point, but I must disagree” — became replaced with “Senator So-and-so is a socialist who hates America.”

    I do think you’re right though, that the final nails began to be driven in during the Gingrich era. That was when political in-fighting and alpha-dog dominance games took full precedence over the job of governing the country.

  • Naja pallida

    Even Hitler didn’t want to deny science and ban blow jobs.

  • mereside

    How about robthepublicans.

  • mereside

    You just described what they are outwardly proud to represent.

  • Yes, Aryanzonia and Michigan leading the way.

  • I find ‘fascist’ to be a perfectly accurate and conservative term to apply.

  • madcap

    Call them the Republic party.

  • 2patricius2


  • LOL. Not a single rebuttal to the substance of the article. Just an insult. Pathetic is the true modern repubicant fashion.

  • nicho

    Calling conservatives out on their hate, bigotry, and intolerance is far from whining. Conservatives — fools led by traitors.

  • nicho

    And smarter than the average Republican voter. And they smell better too.

  • AdmNaismith

    I’ve kept rats,. They are more loving and caring than the average Rupublican pol.

  • Well, we already have for-profit prisons using convicts for compelled labor, so I’d say we’re about halfway there.

  • It became more common in the 90s when the Republicans began flushing all remaining comity and respectful behavior out of politics.

  • And restore free market slavery.

  • Yep!

  • Home schoolers has em a different way of prounciate’n.

  • And we will always call them out for their Goperistic tendencies/

  • You certainly are an expert on squeaking.

  • Demorats has a perfect ring to it.

  • You nailed it! Very Like!

  • Sweetie

    Oh, and we can’t forget the “disposition matrix” with “preventative detention”. The word rat is more accurate than the word democratic, although obviously that applies to “both” parties.

  • Sweetie

    If the Dems want to be considered Democratic, they may want to reconsider anti-democratic positions they’ve taken, such as retroactively immunizing the government against FOIA (Obama/Lieberman), attacking journalism, warring against whistleblowing, joking about killing teens with drones, promoting austerity, bombing Americans with drones, abandoning habeas corpus, endorsing endless Orwellian war, killing the public option and single-payer, protecting criminals both economic and war — and all the rest.

  • sherman

    I think every time a right-winger derogatorily says Democrat Party, the proper response is to mention something about the Republicon Party. Perhaps after a decade of meeting an insult with an insult, they will start being civil.

    Well no, I know they will never be civil, but at least an insult for an insult sounds like the biblical thing to do.

  • I will not refer to Republicans or other right-wingers as “conservatives” any more. (Nor, for that matter, can I call Democrats “liberal” with a straight face…)

  • pappyvet

    Perhaps re-pubic-ans would fill the bill Becca. Not as strident as some yet with a clear descriptive of where their heads are at most of the time ;]

  • pappyvet


  • pappyvet

    : “I tell people don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus — living fossils” Limbaugh
    “The day will come when unpleasant things are going to happen to a bunch of stupid liberals and it’s going to be very amusing to watch.” Lee Rogers

    Finally standing up to hatred is far from whinning, its called courage,look it up and get used to it.

  • 2patricius2

    Better to say Republicant. Can’t do this, can’t do that. That seems to be the modus operandi of many Republicants in recent years.

  • 2patricius2

    I didn’t realize the term went all the way back to the 40’s. I had thought that it originated with the Gingrich era. Did it just become more common in the 90’s, or did I just begin to notice it back then?

  • zerosumgame0005

    you mean the same way another group of folks used “RATS” to describe Jews?

  • Bill Kenny

    I always thought it was meant to evoke the Communist Party–also no “-ic” suffiix.

  • Exactly. Honoring tradition, exercising caution, and being a good steward of resources are all good things. Not one of those characterizes the modern-day big C Conservative.

  • When ever I hear someone using Democrat as an adjective, I know I’m listening to someone whose main source of information is Fox News and right wing talk radio. They seem surprised when you point out that the correct usage is Democratic Party. That’s because they almost never hear that term in the right wing echo chamber.

  • Naja pallida

    They like to argue they’re the party of Abe Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt, even Ronald Reagan, while completely denying the values those men espoused their entire lives.

  • Naja pallida

    I really find myself getting angry seeing jokers like Jackson being referred to as conservatives. There is nothing conservative about what they want government to have the capability of doing. I’m not even sure regressive is entirely fitting. Ridiculous is the closest term.

  • Please. Don’t go there.

  • It’s not quite English, anyway–not what you wrote at any rate.

  • And if they succeed with that, they’ll want to take it back another century…

  • Indigo

    Response: “Oh! I can tell by your mispronunciation that you’re a Republicunt.”

  • Mork

    Whining is a Democrat specialty, as this weak article show. Or is this squeaking?

  • NCMan

    This is the explanation that I have always heard. They have always believed it is wrong for dems to be able to use the term democratic precisely because of the small “d” defintion which they believe should apply to everyone, not just dems.

  • I never use GOP–it just reinforces the idea that there is something Grand about it.

    Since the racists insisted on calling Muhammad Ali by what he called his “slave name”, I have thought that the essence of good manners is to call a person by the name they choose. If a right-winger insists on referring to the Democrat Party, simply explain to them, as you would to a somewhat backward third-grader, that party is a noun, and must therefore be modified by an adjective, and “Democrat” is not an adjective.

  • Yeah, amazing, using a noun when a noun is called for. Shocking.

  • That’s why I refer to them as “regressives” now. They don’t want to slow down the pace of change or to conserve what actually exists, but to regress our country to the 19th century.

  • nicho

    What an idiotic statement.

  • Democratic = Adjective. Democrat = Noun. It’s not that difficult or complicated.

    It is because they feel so free to make it their entire party’s practice to use the term ‘Democrat Party’ and ‘Democrat Caucus’ and ‘Democrat Senator or Representative’ that I have decided to use the term GOPer to describe Republicans. Although I might be persuaded to use Republic the same way, but only if I get to emphasize the last syllable as RepubLICK, the same way they always manage to emphasize the last syllable in Democrat.

  • Well, they ARE “Democrats.” It’s just not the “Democrat Party,” or a Democrat Senator, or the Democrat President. There’s a difference.

  • It seems like all Democratic politicians refer to themselves as Democrats as well.

  • Agreed. Small “c” conservative as well. They’ve blown that one to hell too.

  • What about the small ‘r’ republican definition. Modern-day Republicans have a great disrespect for small-r republican values these days.

  • I would argue that part of the reason they refuse to use “Democratic” is also because of the small “d” democratic definition. It’s too close to “freedom,” “liberty,” etc., which have almost become Republican trademarks.

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