Thursday, August 03, 2006

Democrat/Democratic

This week's New Yorker has an excellent piece by Hendrik Hertzberg. It's about the tendency of many conservatives to refer to the Democratic Party as "the Democrat party".

Now on one level this is just playground tactics: refusing to call your adversary by its real name and instead using a name that is somehow mocking or derogatory. Hertzberg does a nice job of tracing this practice back to the 1920s and through the Cold War period (McCarthy liked to do it). It's interesting, too, to see that William F. Buckley has written against conservatives who substitute "Democrat" for "Democratic".

I'd add one point to what Hertzberg writes. One advantage the Democrats have is that their name means something to most people. Its sort of a truth in advertising issue. If you're a Democrat then you must be in favor of democracy, and everyone knows what that is, right? (Well, not right, I guess, but everyone thinks they know what democracy means, and that's what matters here.)

But what if you're a Republican? How many people, off the top of their heads, can say that being a Republican means being in favor of a republican government and that means a government where supreme power is held by the people and not by a monarch (say)?

The problem for Republicans is that the name of their party doesn't really convey all that much. And it certainly doesn't connect up with what the Republican party is now known for: lower taxes, pro-business, anti-abortion, etc. In fact, some of those commitments are arguably in conflict with republicanism. (Being pro-business may take power from the people and give it to business interests.) Since that's the case, it's easy to see why some Republicans would be anxious to undermine and mock the name of the opposing party.

Two final points.

First, a good case can be made that Democrats are committed to protecting democracy. That's in part what all the fuss in Florida (in 2000) and Ohio (in 2004) was all about.

Second, what would be a better name for the Republican Party? The obvious choice would be the "Conservative Party" (unfortunately there's already a pretty powerful Conservative Party in New York and it's hard to see them giving up their name). But that's problematic, too, since many conservatives, especially small government, libertarian conservatives, would argue that the current Republican party has betrayed the conservative cause as well.

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