Ic To You, Mr. President

There’s not much meaningful to say about the State of the Union Address–a statement so weak in ideas that it seemed like Jim Webb was the real speaker tonight and George Bush was just his amateur warm up act. His domestic policies will go no where, including his health care proposals which I already discussed here and here. His Iraq plan is just more of the same failed strategy.

In a speech which lacked substance the tone might be more important. Bush typically uses code words which must be evaluated to determine the real meaning of his statements. Past speeches have included code words to the religious right to reassure them that he is on their side even if he is claiming to be a compassionate conservative. Rather than taking advantage of the State of the Union to bridge the partisan gap, Bush carefully chose his words, deviating from the prepared text, to show that he has no intention of cooperating with Democrats. Washington Wire, a blog at the Wall Street Journal, describes the important variation from the prepared text:

President Bush departed from the prepared text of his State of the Union address to graciously congratulate Nancy Pelosi on her history-making selection as the first female Speaker of the House. Then he departed from the prepared text a second time to take a jab at Pelosi and the rest of the new Democratic majority of Congress.

[George Bush]
George Bush

In the prepared text of the speech, sent out by the White House some 40 minutes before Bush ascended the House rostrum, the president was to say, “Some in this Chamber are new to the House and Senate – and I congratulate the Democratic majority.” When Bush delivered the line, however, he paid tribute to the “Democrat majority.”Dropping the “ic” from the word “Democratic” may seem insignificant, but it was almost certainly a deliberate move by Bush, who has used the phrase “the Democrat Party” for months as a way of needling his opponents.

[Nancy Pelosi]
Nancy Pelosi

Republicans have periodically referred to their opponents as belonging to the “Democrat Party” for many decades, and the phrase was a particular favorite of former Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy. A recent Washington Post column filled in the backstory: according to the Columbia Guide to Standard American English, McCarthy “sought by repeatedly calling it the Democrat party to deny it any possible benefit of the suggestion that it might also be democratic.”The phrase lay largely dormant for years, however, until President Bush resuscitated it during last fall’s midterm election season and made it a mainstay of his public remarks about the opposition party. It has since been widely adopted by many Republican lawmakers, conservative political activists, and conservative commentators and pundits at media outlets like Fox News.

For all of Bush’s talk tonight about crossing party lines to work with the new Democratic Congress, it is the missing two letters that may offer the clearest indication of whether partisan tensions are really like to fade in the waning years of Bush’s presidency.

They did make one error in attributing the resumption of “Democrat” to Bush last year. Actually Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz have been promoting this since the 1990’s. Hendrick Hertzberg, writing in The New Yorker, also quotes Bob Dole as once resorting to this insult. It isn’t as important whether it was Bush who resumed this McCarthyite tactic. What matters is that Bush chose to perpetuate this, quickly providing an answer to those watching the State of the Union for clues as to whether Bush has learned anything about bipartisan cooperation after losing control of Congress.

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11 Comments

  1. 1
    janet says:

    Yes, Ron, you are correct–DemocRAT is not a Bushism. I think Tom Delay is the all time Champion for how much he says it and how he says it. I guess he is familiar with rats because he is an exterminator by trade.

    DemocRAT was emphasized during a campaign years ago. A person in our state noticed a republican ad on TV, recorded it, and proved that as the word Democrat went across the screen, it stopped and lingered on the “RAT”. I had noticed it myself.

    Ever since then, I have noticed every single time a republican leaves the “IC” off. It is an insult.

  2. 2
    ME says:

    Just another example of the petty, childlike attitude of those in the republican party. It’s one thing for pundits and radio show hosts to do this sort of thing (sam seder calls them RapePublicans)… but for the president himself to engage in it just shows how petulantly and arrogantly partisan he is…sad, really. If Nancy Pelosi started calling them RAPEpublicans, methinks there would be a little outrage.

  3. 3
    Brendon says:

    Yeah those idiotic Republicans. First off, they’re name-callers. Not like us in the DEMOCRATIC party… oh wait, “RapePublicans,”… uh scratch that last bit.

    Still, though. They are extremely petty. At least we don’t worry about two letters at the end of the party title that has been in place for decades… oh wait… “i-c,” scratch that, too. I guess I don’t have anything to complain about. I guess that means I’ll have to switch parties.

  4. 4
    Marc says:

    Fear not.
    I for one, find the term “democrat” a compliment. No matter how conservative snipes try to change the meaning of a word, it is the people who decide en masse any word’s connotations. Let’s try polling this; I’m sure the term “democrat” would poll far more positively than “Repubican” — moreover, leave “Bush” in the toilet where the President’s actions have put it. Conversely — a cautionary tale — should Dems drop the ball in Congress — they too will be responsible for their own name.

  5. 5
    yucca says:

    just stopped by to express my condolences, ron

    Link

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    Janet,

    The primary intention is to deny that the “Democrat Party” supports democratic principles, but I’m sure some extend it to the RAT interpretation.

    Marc,

    Yes, Democrat would poll better than Republican, but regardless of whether you see it as an insult or compliment, the point is that Bush intented it as a compliment, showing he remains a divider, not a uniter.

    Yucca,

    Thanks. This was predicted and, while there have been some mixed signals, most indications I’ve seen recently suggested he would not run. I will be putting up a full post on Kerry’s decision soon.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:

    Brendon,

    You really mean to draw an equivalence between talk radio personalities and the President?

    I’ve never heard the use of RapePublicans before today, but I have no doubt you could find many instances of similar insults from talk radio and bloggers.

    In contrast, I’ve hard Democrat Party many times, not only from the Rush Limbaughs but from the leaders of the Republican Party.

    As an independent who voted straight Democratic in the last couple of elections, there are other, more important reasons, but this childish and partisan attitude among the Repubican leadership is one reason I could not vote for them. It is one thing to be on talk radio and hurl such insults. When the leaders of a political party do so, it just reinforces the fact that they are not fit to govern.

  8. 8
    richard says:

    I just assumed that they mispronounced it because they were stupid.

  9. 9
    Anonymous says:

    Just to prove that I’m as small-minded as they are, I’d like to introduce “RepugniKKKan Party” into discourse.

  10. 10
    kj says:

    Not using a proper title is one thing, deliberately misprouncing a title is childish and inane. Remind you of anyone?

  11. 11
    Anonymous says:

    Fair enough criticism, Kj. But real votes are decided at the level of inane sloganeering. The users of “Democrat Party” don’t do it for self-entertainment, but as part of the deliberate invective barrage that holds their weaker-minded thralls. High-mindedness may be appropriate for this forum, but it’s not clear whether more votes are ultimately enticed from the undecided middle through rational appeal or something baser.

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