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.

  • MrE85

    I would like to attend a town hall with my Congressman, but the only one he has scheduled for this period is tomorrow in Sartell. That’s a bit of a drive for me.

  • Rob

    Good ol’ Jason. A fine example of American Exceptionalism.

  • Will

    I was a Democrat, I grew up calling it the Democrat Party and I don’t see it as a slur. Just another example of revisionist history, the use of Democrat vs Democratic makes it easier to differentiate between the political party and the form of government. I can’t count the number of times I’m discussing international issues and that differential is essential.

  • MikeB

    Expecting a leopard to change its spots

  • Will

    I just let Mr. Lewis know that our tax dollars are being used to attack him on a non-issue. Maybe he’ll propose a bill to defund MPR & NPR, who knows.

    • Rob

      Why are you here?

      • Will

        To get an understanding from those who disagree with me on some issues.

        • Rob


          • Will

            I am trying explain my side too, it’s a good back and forth. It helps to hear from those who disagree.

    • Jeff

      Bob’s time on this particular post was paid for out of my yearly donation so it’s no big deal.

      • The average taxpayer amount to support public broadcasting is under 30 cents per capita. You purchased about 15 seconds of time.

        Send me your address and I’ll reimburse you the full amount.

        • Jeff

          I meant that I gladly support MPR outside of any tax dollars because I enjoy features like Newscut. My apparently not well articulated point was exactly as you pointed out, that not a lot of this is taxpayer money.

          • Was directed to Will, to whom I’ve extended the offer on multiple occasions. Never with a response.

    • Must be part of the “moderate agenda” I keep hearing so much about.

      • Will

        I would say the same thing with MPR’s “moderate agenda”, btw, when was the last time MPR went off on a local Democrat for choosing improper words…?

    • RBHolb

      It’s an “attack,” because it isn’t flattering?

    • >>I just let Mr. Lewis know that our tax dollars are being used to attack him on a non-issue. <<

      Not in this case. My sustaining MPR membership will cover this thread.

  • Jerry

    As much as I dislike Lewis, he is a professional communicator and not stupid. He knew he was being insulting.

    • Which he’s certainly entitled to be. But he’s not entitled to be believed that it’s raining when he’s actually peeing on our feet.

      The point of his letter was to stress his belief in listening to and respecting opponents. As I indicated, he can’t logically do that while simultaneously — and intentionally unless you were born yesterday — insulting them.

      So, which is it?

      • Jerry

        I don’t think a man who tried to set up a social network limited to the rich has much respect for his average constituent.

  • RBHolb

    Rep. Lewis sounds like he’s irritated by the demands of being in Congress. Could it be that it’s not as much fun as he thought it would be? One of his campaign points was that he had talked about the issues for 20 years. Now, he’s elected and he has to deal with those issues. He is accountable to his constituents, not to the ratings people. Who wants that?

    There is also the culture shock of being one small player surrounded by 440 other players. He’s not the smartest guy in the room anymore, and what’s worse, he can’t just cut people off when he doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. Life is so unfair sometimes.

    • Jack


  • Will

    Maybe you guys are overreacting, maybe Jason will change his usage of this term. My guess is that this wasn’t meant to be a slur or insult, but you’re playing right into his hands by acting like professional victims over a rather benign term.

    • Jerry

      So we should expect him to have a complete personality change?

    • X.A. Smith

      Maybe you’re making excuses for him. Maybe he’s doing the standard thing Republicans have done for a long time.

    • // My guess is that this wasn’t meant to be a slur or insult, but you’re playing right into his hands by acting like professional victims over a rather benign term.

      He got caught and called out just as GWB did when his State of the Union speech was changed. You’re upset because a guy in your party got caught and called out trying to slip a slur in that betrayed his disrespect for his political opposition, the subject of which was the point of his letter.

      There’s a political speak code that pols use, especially when they don’t want to be honest in their communication.

      And example:

      ” My friend” — my friend
      ” My GOOD friend ” — jerk
      “My VERY good friend” – — it’d be OK with me if he were dead.

      If you speak the language, you understand this stuff. If you’re just a rube in the district, they think you won’t and they have complete deniability if you do.

      • Will

        He’s said much more insulting things to people he generally agrees with, this overreaction is why Mr. Lewis won.

        • // this overreaction is why Mr. Lewis won.

          “this is why _____ won.”

          This is now the political version of Godwin’s Law.

        • Jerry

          I thought it was because he was a Republican with a lot of name recognition running in a traditionally conservative, Republican district against a Democrat with ties to the medical industry who also happened to be a lesbian. I’m actually surprised it was that close.

          • His opponent would’ve won if she stressed the fact he didn’t live in the district he wanted to represent. Boy, if there’s a place to appeal to parochialism, that would’ve been it.

          • Jerry

            They just sat and watched that hanging curveball. I guess they just thought the support of slavery and open misogyny was enough.

          • Tim

            Paula Overby taking 7.79% of the votes was a contributing factor too.

        • Tim

          He barely won, and with only 47% of the vote, at that..

    • >> My guess is that this wasn’t meant to be a slur or insult<<

      Considering he's been using that word as a slur for years, I'm thinking your guess is incorrect.

      /Shocked he didn't use the term "demon-rats" as was all the rage a few years ago.

    • JamieHX

      >>Maybe you guys are overreacting, maybe Jason will change his usage of this term. My guess is that this wasn’t meant to be a slur or insult, but you’re playing right into his hands by acting like professional victims over a rather benign term.<<
      What if a neighborhood bully insists on calling your son, say, "Wee Willie Girlie Poo-Poo" because he knows it's an insult and that it bothers your son AND you. He calls your son this for years and gets others in the neighborhood to do the same, even after being asked not to do so, even after being informed that it's not only incorrect but insulting. If you object to this treatment by the bully and his friends, would you be a "professional victim?"

      It is most definitely meant to be a slur or insult. Both state and national Republicans have used this slur for many years. I first noticed it in the 1990s. They do it consistently. Mostly we've been quiet about it, with just a few brief mentions of it over the years, so I'm thrilled to see this much coverage of it.

  • Will

    The real irony is that we’ve got everyone focused on the one word and the use of it instead of looking at his larger point about having a productive discourse. Yelling and screaming people, tossing insults accomplishes little, that was his point… maybe we should examine that instead of the current laser like focus on 2 scary letters.

    • // looking at his larger point about having a productive discourse.

      Nope. We’re looking at the use of an slur that — as the headline says — betrays the lack of respect for opponents which WAS THE SUBJECT of the ISSUE he was addressing in the first place.

      //e, tossing insults accomplishes little, that was his point..

      That wasn’t even CLOSE to being his point. He was denying an accusation of disrespecting those with whom he disagreed. THAT was his point.

      Slipping the slur in only revealed the original accusation to have merit.

      • Will

        But that’s glossing over his point, he doesn’t want to show up be yelled at and insulted by a fake organized agenda driven group. You focused on the 2 letters and dismissed his larger point, that’s fine, that’s your free speech right. There’s something else there we should look at is all I’m saying.

        • Say whaaaaaat???

          The two letters are all we have in this debate . What is his larger point from elsewhere, apparently?

          Did you ever HEAR Jason Lewis’ show? You’re not seriously suggesting a history of moderation of rhetoric and bridge building with his opposition are you?

          Seriously? Are you?

          • Will

            I enjoyed Jason’s show, wish it was still on.

          • seedhub

            So do we.

          • Cuz you’re such a fan of respectful dialogue?

          • Will

            No, because I’m more interested in the ideas, topics and discussion I would hear on that show. I’ve heard more bashing of the GOP from MPR guests than I recall hearing Jason or his guests bashing Democrats. I heard more variety of thought and a deeper discussion of the topic at hand on his show than I get from MPR, where respect only tends to come up when someone says something bad about Democrats.

          • Jay T. Berken

            Will you give us an example of Jason’s “variety of thought and a deeper discussion” from his show?

          • Will

            Sure, he would discuss the statistics around gun control and crime rates. His guests would discuss the topic using actual numbers which showed lower or stable crime rates after passage of conceal and carry, you’re never going to hear a show like that on MPR.

          • RBHolb

            So the “variety of thought” was an exposition of things Jason Lewis believed.

          • // you’re never going to hear a show like that on MPR.

            Given the number of times you ask questions, the answers to which are easily obtained, and plow right into a conclusion without waiting for an answer, I rather doubt you’d know.

          • Will

            Yeah, what do I know, I just listen to MPR 8 hours a day.

          • No you don’t

          • Will

            I listen to what MPR broadcasts 8 hours a day if you’re trying to be technical.

        • >>he doesn’t want to show up be yelled at and insulted by a fake organized agenda driven group.<<

          Sure…everyone who may oppose his views are all "fake," That's mighty convenient.

        • seedhub

          “a fake organized agenda-driven group”

          First, if a group is capable of organizing and driving an agenda, it’s not “fake.” It exists.

          Second, being “organized” is what makes political movements effective.

          Third, all of politics is “agenda-driven,” including your comment.

        • crystals

          Indivisible isn’t fake. I know this because one of my family members is helping with it in DC. He is a Minnesota native, a federal government employee, a former Minnesota legislative staffer, and has a masters in public affairs from an Ivy League university. Is that not real enough for Rep. Lewis? Or you?

          • Will

            Isn’t Indivisible a radio show?? Is it associated with the movement?

          • It’s associated with Pledge of Allegiance. Have you heard the series?

          • crystals

            Two separate things. Indivisible is a MPR show, and a new coalition trying to effect positive change in the Trump presidency. I assume Rep. Lewis is upset about the latter.

    • Also, that’s not “irony”

      • Will

        Don’t you think? It’s like rainnnnn…Oh yeah, that song’s examples weren’t ironic either.

    • Jay T. Berken

      “Yelling and screaming people, tossing insults”

      I know you know that that train left the station a long time ago…

      • Will

        It’s not right when either side does it.

        • Jay T. Berken

          Jason Lewis should aim his message at talk show hosts, like Jason Lewis, to stop stoking the fire with having people on his show that dissents at town hall meetings.


          • Will

            Yep and I can show you videos of Bernie, Hillary and Obama going on rants against those who disagree.

          • Jay T. Berken

            “I do not endorse a partisan, political point-scoring event filtering down from nationally organized “Indivisible” groups with handbooks from Democrat former staffers.”

            “Yelling and screaming people, tossing insults accomplishes little, that was his point…”

            Yep, you can, but he is the elected representative in this story acting like the victim.

  • Will

    Thanks for the good back and forth, I will refrain from using the term Democrat improperly since I can see you all feel so strongly, I respect your position.

    • kevins

      Thanks…just switch to saying “liberal”, spoken with a McConnellesk half smile and dry Kentucky sarcasm.

      • Will

        Is liberal still OK?

        • kevins

          You bet…but without the pejorative tone.

  • And y Democratic representatives insist on relabeling me as “anti-choice.” Both parties pull these labeling stunts and it’s equally stupid when they do. When your elected representatives hold your views in such open contempt, its disappointing and disheartening

  • Greg Hansen

    I’ve visited Rep. Lewis’ local office 3 times representing myself and my family. The notion that I am controlled by a political party or any other organization from the “top down” is ridiculous and insulting.

    He was elected on November 8th and sworn in on January 3rd. Continuing to blame Comcast for not having local phones at this point is absurd and irresponsible. There are many other options available if he genuinely wished to interact with the people he claims to serve.

    The truth is that he has chosen to schedule controlled meetings and fundraisers with supporters during his recess, and has dismissed opportunities to sit down with constituents like me.

    While Rep. Kline was an American hero, it appears Rep. Lewis is a coward.

  • Will

    Wow, I literally just received a call from Jason Lewis’s office, he wants to talk to me about my comments. Any messages I should relay for any of you? Civil comments only please…

    • Glad to hear they got that whole health care thing fixed up and are moving on to the next thing on their list.

    • RBHolb

      Your comments about how the liberal, biased MPR is using tax money to attack him? His office responds to a non-constituent on that topic within a matter of hours–that’s some quick turn-around time.

      Junebug’s perspective is an interesting one. Of course, he’s just a constituent with a problem of the sort traditionally dealt with by Congressional representatives, so what the heck.

  • Deborah

    Wow, 121 comments. Has to be a record or close to it. And on a truly life- changing issue.