In order to comply with the cultural standards of today, the Democratic Party must change its name or else be tainted by its oppressive historical baggage.
In the past few days, I’ve read stories about how, first, the Connecticut Democratic Party, and then my very own Georgia Democrats, have abandoned the long-standing practice of celebrating the founding of their party with a Jefferson-Jackson dinner. It seems that Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson suffer from the irremediable flaw of having been (at least in part) men of their times. They were slaveholders, you see, something that can’t be overcome by even the most eloquent words condemning the practice. And then there’s Jackson’s shameful treatment of Native Americans. Today’s Democrats don’t want to be associated with any of it.
The name ‘Democrat’ is gravely tainted by its historic association with slavery, segregation, and many other ills we would sooner forget.
But there’s one problem. From its founding until the Civil War, the Democratic Party was—to put it mildly—pro-choice on the issue of slavery. After the Civil War and indeed until the 1960s, powerful segments of the party favored states’ rights and segregation. Under Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer conducted a series of raids aimed at arresting and deporting allegedly dangerous foreign radicals. FDR, the longest serving Democratic president, interned Japanese-Americans during World War II. And until just yesterday, it seems, many prominent Democrats defined marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.
I submit to you, dear readers, that the name “Democrat” is gravely tainted by its historic association with slavery, states’ rights, segregation, the internment of Japanese-Americans, hostility to political dissidents and immigrants, and opposition to same-sex marriage. To continue boasting that name is to dishonor the memory of the many victims of these practices, and to send a message to their heirs that they aren’t fully welcome in the very political party that wants to be their home. I thereby call upon those who lead that party to come up with a new name that doesn’t bear so many unpleasant and offensive historical associations.
To continue boasting the name ‘Democrat’ is to send a message to their heirs that they aren’t fully welcome in the very political party that wants to be their home.
Far be it from to tell you what name to choose. Perhaps the “Progressive Party,” though doesn’t that carry with it its own harmful association with eugenicism? Or maybe the “Rainbow Party” could be fitting, if only Rev. Jesse Jackson didn’t have a prior claim to it. I’d say that the “Liberal Party” has the virtue of being accurate, but that’s a label embraced by less than a quarter of the population, and thus it may not well serve the electoral interests of the party. And I’m not sure that you—or the country, for that matter—are ready to adopt the socialist label, even if your leading presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders already has.
So I’m at a loss. All I know is that a true Democrat can no longer use that label, for the party has far much too much triggering historical baggage. I leave it to you, dear friends, to come up with a new one.
Joseph M. Knippenberg is a professor of politics at Oglethorpe University.