Political Correctiveness

Sometimes I get a calls from people complaining about something I said during a newscast. As a rule, I do my best to “run up the middle,” when it comes to reporting.

Admittedly, I find myself reworking an article posted by one of our news partners or the Associated Press, because I see it leaning too far left (or right,) but in the end I do my best to be about the news and the news only. The time for opinion for me is in other formats such as this.

Recently, I had a call from someone listening to the station who complained I was being derogatory towards the Democratic Party by saying “Democrat Party,” and leaving the “-ic,” off the phrase. I did my best to politely explain that I meant no slight by it; rather I do this in order to save time since I have less than 60 seconds to get a meaningful and complete newscast in at the top of each hour.

The call bugged me so much, that I posted the question to my social network: So when did saying “Democrat Party,” instead of “Democratic Party,” become a derogatory phrase? My question brought a broad range of responses including a few from fellow reporters and journalists who claim “political correctness,” to “inaccuracy.”

I realized then I needed to educate myself…

Wikipedia bemoans: “Democrat Party” is a political epithet used …instead of “Democratic Party” when talking about 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 1940.”

It goes on to read: “The term “Democrat Party” was in common use with no negative connotations by Democrats in some localities during the 1950s.The Dictionary of American Regional English gives numerous examples of “Democrat” being used as an adjective in everyday speech, especially in the Northeast.”

Democrat has been used as an adjective by USA Today. In Indiana there are several legally incorporated organizations with “Democrat” as part of their official name, such as the “Indianapolis, 17th Ward Democrat Club Inc.” and the “Andrew Jackson Democrat Club of Tippecanoe County.”

Then there are the times that makes one shake their head – like when MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews decided to challenge Republican Congressman Darrell Issa on his use of the phrase, 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?”

And while Issa denied he intended to use “fighting words”, Matthews refuse to let the matter rest, “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.”

My favorite though, is having learned that National Public Radio has banned the phrase, “Democrat Party,” from its standards guide. I can’t help but shake my head thinking: this is where some of my tax money is being spent.

Of course the history of the wording can be traced back to the 1890’s and the Oxford English Dictionary. The reference is to a South Carolina Governor and Senator named Ben Tillman.

The Oxford entry reads: “Whether a little farmer from South Carolina named Tillman is going to rule the Democrat Party in America – yet it is this, and not output, on which the proximate value of silver depends.” In 1901, after President Theodore Roosevelt dined in the White house with Booker T. Washington, Senator Tillman said, “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they learn their place again.”

In more modern times the phrasing, “Democrat Party,” has been used by the likes of former President George W. Bush. In fact he used, “Democrat majority” in his 2007 State of the Union Address.

When the advanced copy of his address was forwarded to Congress, Democrats complained about the “misusage.” Bush later joked he had been accused of mangling the English language, telling Democratic leaders: “And so I appreciate you inviting the head of the Republic Party.”

The use of Democrat as a noun-modifier is not considered to be grammatically incorrect, after all our language is peppered with phrases like Iraq war. Some speech experts say the use of nouns as adjectives in our language has been on the decline for some period of time.

Now for the other side of this coin – the G.O.P., which is how the Republican Party is often times referred to in our common language. It is truly an affront to the party, though most do not know it nor do they know the origins.

The nickname of the Republican Party didn’t get attached to it until 1888. Previously, the nickname had been used by Southern Democrats as a slap in the face of the party that brought slaves their freedom.

It wasn’t until the Republicans won back the Presidency and Congress for the first time since the Grant administration, that the political epithet was used to rebrand the Republican Party in a positive light. That’s when the Chicago Tribune proclaimed: “Let us be thankful that under the rule of the Grand Old Party… these United States will resume the onward and upward march which the election of Grover Cleveland in 1884 partially arrested.”

I’ll do a better job about getting the “-ic” on Democrat and avoid GOP where possible.

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