Editors Note: Every now and then, I like to use my background as an English teacher as the basis for an article.

Unintelligent by Design: A Grammar Lesson


During the January 26 Republican debate, I noticed the repetition of a trivial, but puzzling grammatical error. Although “Democrat” is a noun, the candidates continually used it as an adjective — as in “the Democrat party” and “Democrat policies.” You’d expect politicians to know enough about grammar to say “Democratic.”

I’ve been vaguely aware of this usage for years, and assumed it was deliberate — perhaps a reaction to a talking-points memo from Fox News, the GOP’s media arm, or Rush Limbaugh, the Republicans’ CEO. I also assumed it was a recent development, which turned out to be wrong.

Wikipedia dates the term to Wendell Willkie’s 1940 presidential bid, and it’s been part of GOP platforms since the 40s. The 1968 Congressional Record referred to it as an “epithet,” and, in 1996, “Democrat Party” was used in the Republican platform to make the point that Democrats are elitists, rather than democratic.

Although clearly intended to be demeaning and pejorative, it’s unclear why Democrats let it bother them. Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta called the term “nails on a blackboard.” On “Hardball With Chris Matthews,” after the host chided Republican congressman Darrell Issa for using it (because “the Democratic Party calls itself Democratic”), Matthews asked testily, “Why do you people talk like this?”

Journalist Ruth Marcus claims Republicans use the term simply because Democrats dislike it. It’s not unlike conservative commentator Tucker Carlson’s assertion that Fox News calls itself “Fair and Balanced” just to annoy liberals. Why they’re annoyed is a mystery, but, obviously, conservatives wouldn’t say it if liberals didn’t take offense.

Similarly, the term “fundie,” a shortened form of “fundamentalist” seems to annoy right-wing religious fanatics, but I find it easier to use and less scary than the full spelling. And, if it rankles the fundies, then so be it.

But could there be a more-subtle reason for this conservative syntax beyond merely offending Democrats, denying them a tie-in with the positive connotations of “democratic” and saving a syllable? One plausible explanation is that, because it’s grammatically incorrect, it demonstrates the speaker isn’t one of those out-of-touch liberal elitists who think speaking correctly is important.

Conservatism was once epitomized by the urbane, educated voice of William F. Buckley. These days, it’s personified by Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, all one-semester college dropouts. And the 2012 presidential field has included Herman “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” Cain, who paraded his own ignorance as a badge of honor, and Rick Perry, once described as the politician “for those who find George W. Bush too cerebral.”

Jon Huntsman, the GOP’s most moderate candidate, advised his colleagues that Republicans shouldn’t become the anti-science party. He specifically warned that disbelief in global warming and evolution — embraced by 98% and 97% of scientists, respectively — puts Republicans “on the wrong side of science.” But the wrong side of science is precisely where most conservatives want to be.

One reason Huntsman wasn’t a more-serious contender is because he just didn’t get it: The Republican base doesn’t care about the opinions of biologists and physicists from places like MIT and Princeton. They get their science from the Old Testament, and they don’t trust godless elitists with Ph.Ds.

The GOP is bifurcated. First, there’s the old money and Wall Street types who benefit from Republicans’ unending concern for the financial well-being of the wealthy (e.g., abolishing capital gains taxes and the estate tax for millionaires). Since the Reagan years, the GOP has toiled relentlessly to widen the gap between the upper 1% and the rest of us. As a result, this 1% is beholden to the Republican party, which labels any mention of the rich getting richer (while everyone else gets poorer) as “class warfare.”

But no party can win elections with just the wealthy, so the GOP has fattened its base with evangelicals, including working-class constituents whom the party has convinced to vote against their own best interests. The party does this by championing issues that appeal to the Christian Right, such as opposing gay rights, reproductive choice and even birth control, as well as rejecting modernism, particularly science, which pleases the fundies no end.

Conservatives have set themselves apart from the Democrat party, which they characterize as a cadre of overeducated, elitist and godless secular progressives from Manhattan and Los Angeles. This enables the GOP to pursue policies that help the country club moderates and hedge fund billionaires, while pretending to be populists who are, in the words of faux independent Bill O’Reilly, “looking out for you.”

Mitt Romney is a perfect candidate for this strategy. He made his fortune taking huge amounts of money out of failing companies, then bankrupting them, and sending their workers to the unemployment line. He’s the sort of “vulture capitalist” that even opponent Rick Perry chastised for “making tens of millions of bucks on the backs of working people.”

This is how Republicans hope to address the budget deficit without inconveniencing the 1%. And, should liberals have the temerity to point this out, Romney will blame the Democrat party for waging class warfare. It’s a matter of style versus substance, and it’s exactly the type of class warfare at which Republicans excel.

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