Pence cloaks Dem insults with Republican code-speak

In his first television interview since taking office, Vice President Mike Pence, with apparent sincerity, emphasized to “PBS NewsHour’s” Judy Woodruff just how committed he and the White House are to “working right now with the Congress,” “working very closely with leaders of the House and Senate” and earning “bipartisan support.” If Pence were sincere about reaching across the aisle, he would not be using insulting Republican code-speak to insult Democrats.

Three different times in his interview with Woodruff, the vice president deliberately used language to needle those political adversaries to whom he was allegedly extending an olive branch. Instead of calling people in the other party what sthose people, correctly and grammatically, call themselves and speaking of “Democratic” colleagues, Pence resorted to partisan semantics by dropping the last syllable and referring to “Democrat” senators,” “Democrat” leaders and “Democrat” members.

Mike Pence, who, according to the authoritative Almanac of American Politics, grew up in Columbus, Indiana, “as a John F. Kennedy-admiring Catholic” and then “graduated from Hanover College as a Republican evangelical Christian” and went on to host his own conservative talk radio show, “The Mike Pence Show,” chooses his words carefully. He knows his parts of speech, that “Democratic” is an adjective and that “Democrat” is a noun.

People who care about politics, especially vice presidential politics, all know about the time when — in the 1976 VP debate between Bob Dole, the Republican, and Walter “Fritz” Mondale, the Democrat — Dole, slipping into the hatchet-man lingo he had mostly overcome, damaged his ticket’s chances by saying, “If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat (emphasis added) wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit.”

Pence may not know that the Red-baiting Joseph McCarthy, the Republican senator from Wisconsin who was eventually censured by the Senate, repeatedly questioned the loyalty of members of “the Democrat Party.” But Republicans know that Newt Gingrich published his personal attack thesaurus — traitor, radical, sick, corrupt — to destroy the “Democrat Party.” And Pence has been interviewed on enough right-wing talk shows to know well the verbal shorthand; always use the disparaging “Democrat” to antagonize the Other Side. To his credit, the cerebral patron saint of American conservatism, William F. Buckley, in National Review, rejected this slur: “I have an aversion to ‘Democrat’ as an adjective,” he once said, pointing out that the noun “Democrat” misused as an adjective is “offensive to the ear.” Besides, “Democratic Party” is a proper noun, and proper nouns are not up for interpretation.

Growing up in heavily Protestant Indiana, you learned early that when someone spoke about “the Roman Church,” the speaker was not being friendly to Catholic people and beliefs. The same is true when “Jew,” instead of “Jewish,” is callously deployed as an adjective — for example, before “neighbors,” “lawyer” or “businessman.”

One of our more appealing national customs is that we Americans generally call people (including political parties) what they wish to be called. So if Republicans, including Vice President Pence, actually mean what they say about wanting to reach out across the increasingly bitter political divide, then they should immediately banish the offensive adjective “Democrat” from their collective lexicon. We’ll be listening, because in the final analysis, it’s a matter not of sensitivity but of civility.