What’s in a word? Is arose by any other name still a rose? Or is a rose not yet arose until it’s arisen? If a word by any measure is a shortcut to a thought, and a word is then cut short, is the thought by that measure also cut shorter? If simplicity is for the simple-minded, and symbols are for the symbol-minded, is symbolic simplicity for those who don’t mind at all?
This clip from Bill Maher’s Overtime is an interesting one…not just for the usual reasons, but for one fascinating little exchange at about the 5:00 minute mark between Maher and Republican panelist Jack Kingston. It starts off when Kingston remarks on the student loan situation being a “Democrat package” passed by a “Democrat congress.” In fact, he says the word “Democrat” so emphatically, so many times, that it’s hard not to notice. And Bill does.
“Why do you always say ‘Democrat,’ when you know the word is ‘Democratic?’ I know that’s a subtle dig, ‘the Democrat.’ And I don’t even get it. I don’t even know why instead of saying ‘democratic,’ it’s ‘Democrat.'”
To which Kingston replies, admittedly pretty pithily:
“Trust me Bill — it’s ‘Democrat.'”
But is it?
This subtle bit of wordplay has been written in before, and it’s not exactly new. It goes back at least as far as the 1920s, and Herbert Hoover used it in 1932 as a deliberate taunt. But why? Here are two definitions of the word “democratic” when used as an adjective:
1) “of, relating to, or supporting democracy or its principles,” and 2) “advocating or upholding democracy”
Now, definition of “Democrat.”
“A member of the Democratic Party.”
Pretty big difference there. The first word means “upholding the principles of democracy,” while the second means “a member of a political party.” And the crazy thing is…that was an important distinction to make back in the 1920s and 30s.
Remember the Dixiecrat? You know, the conservative who was a Democrat before the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, and he became a Wallace Independent? Back then, it probably was fair to say “Gee, these Southern Racist nozzles, who’d bring back slavery in a heartbeat, and still support Jim Crow Laws, probably aren’t the most ‘democratic‘ by definition.”
Times have changed…but the dig hasn’t.
These days, it would be a bit difficult, a bit politically incorrect, to have to say “I’m determined to stop the Democratic Party!” That sounds a little too much like you’re trying to stop democracy itself. It’s a bit simpler and safer, gets people thinking a bit less, to say “I’m determined to stop the Democrats!”
In the end, it’s politically more expedient to kill an ideology when you never mention it at all. And that’s how we wound up with Citizens United, gerrymandering and voter ID laws.
So, what’s in a word? Better to ask what’s in two letters: The very notion of “democracy” itself…quietly dropped from the end of Republican conversation.