“Like nails on a chalkboard,” commented John Podesta, chief of staff in the Clinton White House, now president of the Center for American Progress. “Insulting,” concurred Democrat -- whoops, “Democrat-tick” -- strategist Paul Begala, on CNN.
The complaint isn’t new. A long piece, headlined “The IC Factor,” appeared in the New Yorker magazine’s “Talk of the Town” column last August, citing previous Bush press releases which warned “The Democrat Party has a clear record when it comes to taxes,” and “Nothing threatens our hard-won reforms and economic prosperity more than a Democrat victory this November.”
One wonders who will be next. Shall nuclear engineers and physicists now fume and bleat that the president insults them when he pronounces the word “nuc-u-ler”?
The “Democrat” shorthand appears to date back at least 50 years. It’s designed to emphasize the “rat” sound in the party’s name -- “It fairly screams ‘rat,’” quoth the staff of the New Yorker, apparently standing on a chair and lifting their petticoats -- and to imply the Democratic Party “isn’t really democratic,” the offended parties speculate.
But the complainants thus reveal a parallel tone deafness of their own. The complaint from the right about today’s Democrats is not that they’re “not really democratic,” but that they’re all too democratic.
The founders were careful to stipulate a “republican” form of government, warning the insidious notion that all matters could be decided by majority vote could lead to “mob rule.” They were wary that such a doctrine would allow the majority to believe they had a right to decide which churches might be shuttered, for example, which newspapers might be banned, or whether the minority might be allowed to smoke tobacco (or anything else) in public.
One of the more prominent recent examples of this error was the cheerful but simplistic faith that if the people of Iraq could merely be inveigled to hold a democratic election and each hold up a purple finger, the blessings of a peaceful, pluralistic, constitutional form of government would descend upon them as the bright dew of morning.
Since the most prominent promulgator of this happy but misguided article of (lower-case) democratic faith was George W. Bush himself, the mind balks at the suggestion that his country way of talkin’ is now meant to imply the opposition party “isn’t really very democratic.”
It’s reminiscent of the faculty wife who wrote in to Miss Manners, complaining that the university -- tiring of the hopeless struggle to keep track of who’s cohabiting with whom, and under what degree of legal sanction -- had simply retired her name, hereinafter addressing their joint social invitations to “Professor Haugh and guest.”
Not only that, the lady complained, but when people DO use her name, they now shorten it to “Mrs. Haugh,” ignoring the fact that she has hitched her own surname in front of her husband’s, by means of the long-suffering hyphen.
Miss Manners (the Post’s indefatigable Judith Martin) replied that the offended party has every right to firmly correct the improper usage -- “Actually, I prefer ‘Ms. Hermione Featherstone-Haugh’” -- but that working oneself into a further snit or lather was likely to prove both silly and unproductive.
I would now respectfully offer the same advice to my former brethren of the left, who (having yet to grasp the many problems that accrue when we subject the safeguarding of our rights to the despotism of the majority), still dub themselves Democrats.
Or should that be, “Democratics”?