You can call me Ray.. but you don’t have to call me Democrat

Sam Seder is trying to make “RAYpublican” the mocking equivalent to “Democrat party.” It won’t work, but it also won’t matter.

Listening to Sam Seder substitute for Al Franken on Air America this morning made me realize, well, mostly how smart and funny Al Franken is. But one meme was interesting. Seder repeatedly pronounced Republican “RAYpublican,” with a sneery intonation that made for unfunny satire (again, I missed Franken) but that also made clear that it wasn’t an accident.

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. (Granted, by the time we all forget the former adjective, the prank will have lost its effect—just as the warm and fuzzy effects of renaming the “Department of War” the “Department of Defense” stopped decades ago. But it’s still a nasty and bullying tactic, akin to Bush’s mandatory nicknames, and I’m astonished that the Dems let it happen without a fight.)

RAYpublican, a presumed attempt at retaliation, seems a clear mistake because it’s truly at schoolyard level, too crude to work. (“Democrat party” cleverly tracked the English language’s tendency to make nouns into adjectives in ways that confound everyone but Germans, as in “rubber baby buggy bumpers.”) One can imagine better alternatives (“the GOP party,” pronounced “gopp,” with its Cole Porter roots, comes to mind) but the sad fact is that Democrats aren’t either disciplined enough or consistently petty enough to make anything like this stick.

There’s a silver lining here. In war—and chess—there’s a mistake called “pushing the enemy where he wants to go”: mounting an attack that forces the other side to move exactly where your own weakness is. Unable to compete with Republicans in repeating utter nonsense so relentlessly that reporters would fall for it, Democrats have had to fall back on making true statements about Iraq, the deficit, Katrina, and Abramoff. That which we call an emerging Democrat majority, by any other name…

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.