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A peeve about political terminology…

December 14, 2021, 6:15 PM

One thing that always bothers me when I’m reading and listening to things from political discussions is when I hear someone use a term incorrectly, specifically referring to political parties.  As you probably know, the two major political parties in the United States are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.  The names, as they refer to the political parties, are themselves relatively meaningless, and are really brand names more than anything (and, in fact, the parties have switched stances with each other since their formation).  “Democratic” with a capital “D” is a separate concept from “democratic” with a small “d”.  The ideas of “Democratic values” and “democratic values” are two different things, as one thing refers to the political party, while the other is more abstract and references democracy more generally.  The same goes for “Republican” (capital “R”) and “republican” (small “r”).  The former refers to the Republican Party, also known as the “Grand Old Party” or “GOP”, while the latter refers to representative government, also known as a republicanism.  People like to consider the United States as a democracy, but technically, we operate under a republican system, because, constitutionally speaking, we are a republic, because we elect people to do all of the governing for us on our behalf, rather than all of us getting together and doing it ourselves (the founding fathers tended to view “democracy” as a negative thing, likening it to mob rule).  The concept of democracy and a small-d democratic system has little to do with the capital-D Democratic Party.  Similarly, the concept of republicanism and a small-R republican system of government does not mean a government that is, by definition, run by the capital-R Republican Party.  The idea of “republican values” and “Republican values” are two very distinct concepts.  The same goes for other political parties as well.  For instance, traditionally libertarian stances may or may not be the official stance of the Libertarian Party. Capital “L” vs. small “l” and all.  As an example, I feel like I’ve been leaning more libertarian in my own views as I’ve gotten older, but I generally don’t pay much attention to the Libertarian Party.  I like to tell people that I am a leftist, but a liberal, I ain’t.

In any event, the rest of this entry refers to the versions of these terms with capital letters, because I’ve pretty much covered the small-letter versions of these concepts as much as I need to for our purposes.

As far as use of the wrong terms goes, I mostly see it coming from Republican politicians and Republican-leaning pundits, directed at the Democratic Party, mostly because there are two closely-related terms to refer to the Democratic Party and people associated with it: “Democratic” and “Democrat”.  Most often, I see the improper use of the term take the form of referring to the Democratic Party as the “Democrat Party” and Democratic politicians as “Democrat politicians”.  You don’t get this so much towards Republicans because the same term is used to refer to people and the organization.  Members of the Republican Party are typically referred to as Republicans.  About the only different terminology there is the “Grand Old Party” moniker, typically abbreviated as GOP, and pronounced as “G-O-P”, i.e. as the letters, rather than as something rhyming with “mop”.

Generally speaking, when referring to the Democratic Party, the correct term is “Democratic”.  When referring to a person, or group of people, the correct term is “Democrat”. Some examples:

  • “Ken Plum is a member of the Democratic Party.”
  • “Ken Plum is a Democrat.”
  • “The House of Representatives has a Democratic majority.”
  • “The majority of members of the House of Representatives are Democrats.”
  • “Voting on the bill followed party lines, with the Democratic members voting yes.”
  • “The Democrats voted yes on the bill, which largely followed party lines.”

There is some subtlety there, which I hopefully conveyed to you.  If it can be construed as a reference to the party rather than to the people, “Democratic” is the term that you want to use.  If you’re referring to a person or group of people who align with the Democratic Party, the term is “Democrat”.  There is a difference.  It is subtle, but it is there.

It always bothers me when people use the wrong term – typically misusing (or abusing) the term “Democrat”.  Right-wing pundits tend to be guilty of this most often, and usually deliberately, calling the Democratic Party the “Democrat Party” on the air, likely as a snide commentary on the democraticness, or perceived lack thereof, of the Democratic Party.  In any case, the use of the term grates on my nerves every time I hear it, because it’s incorrect.  It makes one look either ignorant if you don’t know any better, or like a schmuck if you do know better and still use it like that anyway.  Bottom line: don’t do it.  Use the proper term.

Now go forth, and speak properly, and make yourself sound more educated so that people take you seriously.

Categories: Language, Politics