It’s an established American tradition to call people what they wish to be called. That’s why after he converted religions, nearly everyone — except a few die-hard bigots — called the heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali instead of Cassius Clay. Marion Morrison chose to become John Wayne. Ilyena Lydia Vasilievna Mironov would later become Dame Helen Mirren, and Caryn Johnson would achieve fame and fortune as Whoopi Goldberg.
But some Republicans, included among them the current GOP president, regularly choose to ignore this national custom by refusing to address or refer to their political adversaries as belonging to — what it has been almost universally called since 1828 — the Democratic Party. Instead, by deliberately dropping the last two letters and ungrammatically substituting an adjective for a noun, some partisans seek to disparage the party of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.
Recently, Marc Short, the presidential assistant with the challenging responsibility of managing this White House’s relations with the House and the Senate, was interviewed one-on-one on PBS NewsHour by Amna Nawaz. Facing an election year in which the Republican congressional majority is clearly threatened, Short insisted on referring to the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as “Democrat administrations.” President Trump had tweeted late last year about getting “no Democrat votes” in the Senate for his budget plan and the “Wacky Congresswoman” who was “killing the “Democrat Party” — a term which is harsher to the ear than the more melodic “Democratic” and supposedly robs the Democrats of all popular identification with the appealing virtues of social equality and anti-snobbishness.
Ever since Wisconsin’s redbaiting — and, eventually, censured — Joseph R. McCarthy popularized the epithet “Democrat Party,” conservative partisans have mostly employed it publicly as a sort of secret verbal handshake to prove one’s GOP credentials while disparaging the other guys.
There have been happy exceptions. In 2008, the year Republicans nominated Arizona Sen. and maverick John McCain, the Party platform committee voted down a proposal to call the opposition the “Democrat Party” in the platform. Then-Mississippi Gov. and committee Chairman Haley Barbour explained, “We probably should use what the actual name is,” a position endorsed by one Indiana committee member who argued, “We should afford them the respect they are entitled and call them by their legal name.”
Just as most Irish-Americans reject being called “micks,” and Catholics don’t like to be referred to as adherents of the “Church of Rome” any more than Jewish Americans appreciate being told they are “of the Hebrew persuasion,” members of the Democratic Party do not like to be told they belong to the “Democrat Party.”
If the Republicans are sincerely interested in winning in 2020, for what would be only the second time having a majority of the national vote in the last eight presidential elections, they — and their leader, President Donald J. Trump — could begin by calling their fellow Americans across the aisle members of the Democratic Party. Sometimes it’s not just how you say it; it really is what you say.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
IMAGE: The mascots of the Democratic and Republican parties, a donkey for the Democrats and an elephant for the GOP, are seen on a video screen at a Hillary Clinton campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio March 8, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria