Pol’s use of ‘D-word’ betrays disrespect for constituents

If you’re trying to convince your constituents that you respect opposing views, it’s probably best not to insult them in the process.

Rep. Jason Lewis has been under some fire for telephone town halls rather than showing up in person.

On Monday night in Northfield, citizens held a town hall forum where they knew he wouldn’t show up.

“He was rude to several callers, either cutting them off or loudly talking over them, and the majority of his responses, particularly with regard to the Affordable Care Act, sounded like scripted talking points only tangentially related to the specific questions asked,” Jennifer Joffee, an Inver Grove Heights participant in a recent call wrote in a Star Tribune letter on Monday. “He also used every opportunity to criticize and blame Democrats, some (Elizabeth Warren, Bill Clinton) by name. When one caller inquired about in-person town hall meetings, he replied defensively that many representatives never hold any town hall meetings of any kind, as if constituents should be grateful he is making time to listen at all!”

In today’s Star Tribune, Lewis, fired back.

“I appreciate hearing from them, whether or not their views align with mine, and am committed to representing every one of my constituents,” he wrote.

Last, let me be clear: I’m committed to holding a town hall. While the voting schedule in Washington has been particularly busy, I have been taking advantage of all the ways I have to meet, hear from and see constituents at home or in Washington. I do not endorse a partisan, political point-scoring event filtering down from nationally organized “Indivisible” groups with handbooks from Democrat former staffers. I want a respectful exchange with those who want to be heard.

You can’t insist you have respect for constituents who didn’t vote for you and then insult them, which is what Lewis did in his final paragraph.

In his sentence’s construction, the word isn’t Democrat — a noun. It’s Democratic — an adjective.

That’s something Lewis, a skilled baiter in his talk-show days, knows well.

“It is a semantic tactic that’s been part of Republican warfare for decades,” the Washington Post reported during the Bush adminstration, after a State of the Union speech was revised to eliminate “Democratic” and substituting the noun in its place. “It’s a little thing, a means of needling the opposition by purposefully mispronouncing its name, and of suggesting that the party on the left is not truly small-‘d’ democratic. The president’s pronunciation was all the more striking because it was apparently not what Bush was supposed to say. The prepared speech that the White House distributed beforehand retained that precious ‘-ic.'”

“Like nails on a chalkboard,” John Podesta, chief of staff in the Clinton White House, said.

The New Yorker’s Hendrk Hertzberg called it a “slur” used to express contempt.

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.” At a slightly higher level of sophistication, it’s an attempt to deny the enemy the positive connotations of its chosen appellation. During the Cold War, many people bridled at obvious misnomers like “German Democratic Republic,” and perhaps there are some members of the Republican Party (which, come to think of it, has been drifting toward monarchism of late) who genuinely regard the Democratic Party as undemocratic. Perhaps there are some who hope to induce it to go out of existence by refusing to call it by its name, à la terming Israel “the Zionist entity.” And no doubt there are plenty of others who say “Democrat Party” just to needle the other side while signalling solidarity with their own—the partisan equivalent of flashing a gang sign.

The slur has a Minnesota connection. In a 1940 keynote address to his party, Harold Stassen used it to express his disapproval of Democratic machine bosses.