Friday, April 25, 2008

"Democrat" vs. "Democratic" and Why it Matters

Image of Kobayashi Maru from AmbrosiaSW

I found myself embroiled in a heated discussion on a conservative web site over the last two days. Why I feel the need to inject myself into a no-win situation is something of a mystery even to me. Perhaps it is my own Kobayashi Maru?

I was visiting Johnny Dollar's Place, a bad habit that I indulge every couple of weeks or so. One of the more recent posts was about Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC/Air America Radio personality. I like Rachel a great deal, and wondered what poo was being flung in her direction. At issue was a statement she made on (I believe it was) Race for the White House with David Gregory. She talked about the tendency for conservatives to misstate the name of the Democratic Party by saying Democrat Party. She flubbed the source of the usage of the phrase by attributing it to FOX "News" Democratic debates. She wasn't wrong about what they do, she was wrong about when they did it.

The allegation at Johnny Dollar was that Rachel was lying--a bold statement for a site that is essentially a shrine to a propaganda outlet. But I didn't jump in to decry that slur, I was simply trying to outline the hows and whys of the right's use of "Democrat" as an adjective. The point was being ignored, misunderstood or denied. I thought I could lend a hand, while also being snarky. Bad move.

Here's what happens whenever I get engaged in these types of arguments. I tend to write rather informally and colloquially--with a heavy dose of snark. So, while I think I've made my point, I often come back to read responses attacking my post--but for things that have nothing or little to do with the point I was arguing. For instance, in my post I used the phrase "all the time." This is a common figure of speech that most people know means "a lot." Respondents at JDP jump all over that sort of thing.

They also often demand that you provide sources and links to back up each and every sentence of your comment. While very few comment boards are made up of a series of attributed, footnoted, linked "proofs," I am usually asked to do so. If I provide just that, the source is usually slammed, or deemed insufficient. If I decline to do so, my argument is rejected. It is quite simply impossible to win an argument in this situation, even if you are absolutely, objectively correct. So, after firing off five or six responses I tend to lose interest. Perhaps I should take Bart Simpson's advice: "Can't win. Don't even try." I prefer Captain Kirk's method, but I haven't figured out how to apply it to conservatives!

I suppose that is a long way to go to get to what my point actually was, as written in the headline. Sorry, I get windy. But the simple fact of the matter is, conservatives, by-and-large, incorrectly use the word "Democrat" as an adjective, when it is actually a noun. "Democrat Party," "Democrat National Convention," "Democrat Nominee. . ." The list goes on and on. The proper word in all of those constructions is of course, "Democratic."

But "democratic" is too nice of a word to use if you are in opposition to the party. Like "freedom" and "liberty," democratic is one of those words that the conservatives want to trademark and brand as their own. So they call the party by an incorrect name. It doesn't hurt that it sounds abrupt and harsh. It also tests well with the conservative base, and irritates the hell out of Democrats (note: used here in the correct context).

For an interesting dissection of this phenomenon, go to this link at The New Yorker. This piece, by the way, was discounted as a source by Johnny Dollar himself because Media Matters for America also cites it. Ummmm, OK. . .

The argument I was having didn't just inspire this post, it also inspired Johnny Dollar to write one. He was asking me to research transcripts, and come up with examples of FOX "News" hosts misusing "Democrat." I knew that this was futile, because no matter how many I found, it would be deemed not enough, and certainly not "all the time." Johnny has assembled a list of links himself, of MSNBC hosts using the word as an adjective. Touche. But it really only points to the pervasiveness of Frank Luntzian words into the language. The fact of the matter is, the conservatives are doing it consistently and on purpose. Unless you want to concede that Rush Limbaugh doesn't know what he's saying. . .hey, I just might go there!

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