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During its post-speech coverage of President Bush's State of the Union address on January 23, Fox News displayed an onscreen graphic that falsely claimed that, during the speech, Bush said: "I congratulate the Democratic majority" in Congress. In fact, while the prepared text of Bush's speech reportedly did feature the phrase, "Democratic majority," Bush actually congratulated what he called the "Democrat majority," as the White House's official transcript makes clear.
As Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, the use of "Democrat" as an adjective is a slur that originated with Republican operatives. Republicans consistently refer to the "Democrat Party," even though that is not what members of the Democratic Party call themselves, and use the noun "Democrat" as an adjective, which New Yorker magazine senior editor Hendrik Hertzberg identified as an attempt to deny the opposing party the claim to being "democratic," or as Hertzberg wrote, "to deny the enemy the positive connotations of its chosen appellation."
According to Hertzberg, in the early 1990s, the use of the word "Democrat" as an adjective became nearly universal among Republicans, apparently due largely to the urging of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Republican pollster Frank Luntz.
Hertzberg pointed out in an article for the August 7, 2006, issue of The New Yorker that the word "Democrat" is a noun, arguing that its use as an adjective defies the rules of English grammar:
The American Heritage College Dictionary, for example, defines the noun "Democratic Party" as "One of the two major US political parties, owing its origin to a split in the Democratic-Republican Party under Andrew Jackson in 1828." (It defines "Democrat n" as "A Democratic Party member" and "Democratic adj" as "Of, relating to, or characteristic of the Democratic Party," but gives no definition for -- indeed, makes no mention of -- "Democrat Party n" or "Democrat adj".) Other dictionaries, and reference works generally, appear to be unanimous on these points.
Hertzberg further noted:
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."
In contrast to Fox News' false graphic, The Wall Street Journal's Yochi J. Dreazen wrote on the Journal's weblog, Washington Wire, on January 23 that "[d]ropping the 'ic' from the word 'Democratic' ... was almost certainly a deliberate move by Bush, who has used the phrase 'the Democrat Party' for months as a way of needling his opponents." Dreazen later added that "it is the missing two letters that may offer the clearest indication of whether partisan tensions are really like[ly] to fade in the waning years of Bush's presidency." According to Dreazen:
In the prepared text of the speech, sent out by the White House some 40 minutes before Bush ascended the House rostrum, the president was to say, "Some in this Chamber are new to the House and Senate -- and I congratulate the Democratic majority." When Bush delivered the line, however, he paid tribute to the "Democrat majority."
Dropping the "ic" from the word "Democratic" may seem insignificant, but it was almost certainly a deliberate move by Bush, who has used the phrase "the Democrat Party" for months as a way of needling his opponents.
Republicans have periodically referred to their opponents as belonging to the "Democrat Party" for many decades, and the phrase was a particular favorite of former Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy. A recent Washington Post column filled in the backstory: according to the Columbia Guide to Standard American English, McCarthy "sought by repeatedly calling it the Democrat party to deny it any possible benefit of the suggestion that it might also be democratic."
The phrase lay largely dormant for years, however, until President Bush resuscitated it during last fall's midterm election season and made it a mainstay of his public remarks about the opposition party. It has since been widely adopted by many Republican lawmakers, conservative political activists, and conservative commentators and pundits at media outlets like Fox News.
For all of Bush's talk tonight about crossing party lines to work with the new Democratic Congress, it is the missing two letters that may offer the clearest indication of whether partisan tensions are really like to fade in the waning years of Bush's presidency.
Similarly, during MSNBC's post-speech analysis on January 23, which also featured NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, MSNBC host Chris Matthews and NBC's Nightly News anchor Brian Williams noted Bush's use of "Democrat majority":
MATTHEWS: You know, there was a little point there -- I know you watch these things, as we all do, but at least a lot of us do -- but did you notice that even though in the text in the second -- the third paragraph of the speech, it referred to the majority controlling Congress as the Democratic Party --
WILLIAMS: Yep, I pointed that out.
MATTHEWS: -- and he couldn't resist saying "Democrat" as an adjective, which is the thing that always bugs the Democrats. Brian --
WILLIAMS: I pointed that -- we were sitting here, Chris, listening to the speech and I circled my intended for delivery portion where it says "Democratic" and tapped my pen to show Tim that, as delivered, was "Democrat." This goes back to just after the "Contract for America", it was decided -- I've seen it printed in talking points -- it was decided it gives it a harsher, pejorative edge and does no assistance to the other party. And I noted that too. It's kind of tragic, in a way, that we both did.
From Bush's January 23 State of the Union address:
BUSH: Some in this chamber are new to the House and Senate, and I congratulate the Democrat majority.