POLITICS
03/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

'Democrat Party' Lives On In Allegedly Post-Partisan World

In 1996, the Republican Party removed all reference in its platform to an entity known as the "Democratic Party" and officially renamed it the "Democrat Party."

The Democrats were too elite, argued the GOP, to deserve association with the word democratic. The dig was the culmination of a century-long branding campaign led by, among others, President Herbert Hoover and Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI). But it came into its own under the GOP Congress led by Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay.

If the Democrat Party expects to get its real name back as a result of President Obama's declaration of a post-partisan era, it'll be sorely disappointed.

Use of the term is still ubiquitous in Republican circles. And the GOP sees no reason for that to change.

"What makes you think we're in that era of post-partisanship?" wondered Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), when asked if the new era would mean a funeral for the term. Blunt was DeLay's chief deputy and stepped down as minority whip after the 2008 elections.

"You better go tell them" about the new era, he suggested, pointing to the Democrats' side of the House chamber. "I don't think they're aware."

With self-described maverick John McCain leading the party, the GOP stripped "Democrat Party" from the platform in 2008 and replaced it with the real name. But that's as far as they've gone.

"We probably should use what the actual name is," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour chairman of the panel that made the decision, at the time. "At least in writing."

Republicans seem reluctant to let go of the term in practice. Asked if he'd give it up, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said that the Democrat annoyance at the term is "lost on me."

"There's no conscious effort here. I'm not sure what the issue is," said Boehner. "They refer to themselves as Democrats."

"I don't think anybody says Democrat versus Democratic as a way of getting under their fingernails," said Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL). "I didn't even know that it still did. But you're right, I remember when that blew up -- when was it? -- two years ago."

Is it just force of habit that keeps the phrase alive?

"I guess. I've never really analyzed it, because I've never understood the sensitivity," said Putnam.

Despite those protestations of naiveté, Republicans are aware that the term chafes the opposition. "There are people who do it to upset them," said Rep. Thadeus McCotter (R-MI), declaring himself not among such folks.

New Yorker columnist Hendrick Hertzberg attempted to explain, in 2006, why the term was so annoying to Democrats.

"There's no great mystery about the motives behind this deliberate misnaming. 'Democrat Party' is a slur, or intended to be -- a handy way to express contempt. Aesthetic judgments are subjective, of course, but 'Democrat Party' is jarring verging on ugly. It fairly screams 'rat,'" he wrote.

Aesthetic concerns aside, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said that Democrats don't have a monopoly on democracy.

"There's no question that it's legitimate to call your party whatever you want. It's not legitimate to confuse democracy with a party," he said. "The Democrats are not the party of democracy ... and we are not the party of the U.S. Republic. These are interesting names that play off the two most essential parts of our constitution."

As long as there's no confusion with democracy, Issa said, he's happy to call them by their real name. But it won't be easy.

"It's a little tough to say 'the Democrats,' and then say 'Democratic,'" he said.

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