One of the least substantial but most annoying things about the Republicans’ repetition machine is how well they succeeded with their schoolboy prank of changing the adjective “Democratic” to “Democrat.” They’ve been so successful that many nonpartisan radio and TV journalists and even some party activists now say “Democrat party” or “Democrat primary” ? and some young people probably can’t remember a time when our party got to choose its own name.
I agree that this is a juvenile and irksome habit, but I don’t think it’s a new one. Republicans have been calling us the “Democrat Party” since at least the 30s, haven’t they? And maybe longer than that.
Or am I off base on this? Does anyone know how long this has been going on?
UPDATE: Nexis, which only goes back to the 70s, quotes Ronald Reagan referring to the “Democrat Party” in 1976. However, last year Geoffrey Nunberg traced its origins back quite a bit further:
The bleaching of democracy made small-d democrat irrelevant as a political label….That’s what allowed the Republicans of Hoover’s era to start referring to their opponents as the Democrat Party….By mid-century, “Democrat Party” had become the routine tic that it is for modern Republicans, though nowadays it probably has less to do with undermining the Democrats than simply irritating them.
In a footnote he provides some further references:
In a 1984 column, William Safire located the origin of the phrase in 1940:
Who started this and when? Acting on a tip, I wrote to the man who was campaign director of Wendell Willkie’s race against Franklin Delano Roosevelt. ”In the Willkie campaign of 1940,” responded Harold Stassen, ”I emphasized that the party controlled in large measure at that time by Hague in New Jersey, Pendergast in Missouri and Kelly Nash in Chicago should not be called a ‘Democratic Party.’ It should be called the ‘Democrat party.’ . . .”
But in fact you find instances of “Democrat Party” going back at least to 1923, when H. Edmund Machold, the Republican Assembly Speaker of NY State, was quoted as saying:
The people of this State have chosen the Republican Party as the majority party in this House, and the representative of the opposite party, the Democrat Party, for the place of Chief Executive of the State. (New York Times, Jan. 4, 1923.)
And Hoover used the phrase in the 1932 campaign — for example in a speech in St. Louis on November 4, 1932:
Many years ago the Democrat party undertook to remedy that whole question of booms and slumps by the creation of the Federal Reserve System. (New York Times, Nov. 5, 1932).
There you have it. It sounds like the primary motivation at first was to draw attention to the undemocratic nature of the urban Democratic machines of the era. In that way, it was perhaps one of the earliest and least inspired attempts at Lakoffian reframing.