Former House Majority Leader and erstwhile Tea Party maven Dick Armey (above) was interviewed on the telly the other day and repeatedly misused the noun “Democrat” as an adjective.
It behooves me, then, to trot out my oft-used grammar lesson on this matter, lest admirers of Mr. Armey make even bigger fools of themselves than they already are.
The name of the oldest political party in America is the Democratic Party of the United States. It’s members are known as “Democrats” (a noun).
Grammatically proper references to the party, its plans, its proposals, etc., require the use of the adjective “Democratic,” not the noun “Democrat.”
There is no such thing as “the Democrat Party,” or “Democrat leadership,” or “Democrat agenda” or any other construction in which “Democrat” is used to modify a word or phrase. In such cases, the correct usage is “Democratic.”
Right-wingers, however, seem to think that “Democrat” as an adjective somehow sounds less euphonious, less respectable and more pejorative than “Democratic.” So, grammatical considerations notwithstanding, they misuse the one word and shun the other. And when they hear any fellow rightist use these words correctly, it grates on them.
The genesis of this Democrat-as-an-adjective silliness is not entirely clear. According to one theory, it all started with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the infamous red-baiter and witch-hunter of the mid-20th century. Others say it can be traced to the late 1950s when a man named Meade Alcorn, chairman of the Republican National Committee, issued a directive to his minions to thereafter avoid use of the word “Democratic.”
McCarthy’s example or Alcorn’s admonition, whichever it was, has been heeded to this day among the party’s more zealous elements. And woe to he or she who dares stray from this orthodoxy.
Jay Nordlinger, senior editor of the conservative National Review, has written of the guff he gets from some readers for his refusal to misuse “Democrat.” And right-wing writer John L. Perry has conspicuously refused to go along with those who “abuse consciously or misuse ignorantly” the D-word.
The late Sen. Sam Ervin once said: “I have been trying to reform Republicans all my life and have had virtually no success, but I would like for them to adopt good grammar and quit using the noun ‘Democrat’ in lieu of the adjective ‘Democratic.’ If I can teach the Republicans that much grammar, I will feel that my effort to educate them has not been entirely in vain.”