News & Politics

State of the Union Notes: Freshmen, President Gonzales, and ‘Democrat’

A few interesting notes today from MSNBC/National Journal's annual morning-after State of the Union breakfast on the Hill:

* According to the reporters and the congressmen who were present at Charlie Palmer's for the coffee and punditry there was only word where President Bush diverged from his published speech remarks: Democratic. Whereas in the speech text, the word was written "Democratic" (as in Democratic Party), verbally he always just said "Democrat" (as in Democrat Party). It wasn't a mistake. The twist of the tongue is a regular Republican linguistic trick that hopes to rob Democrats of the power of calling themselves "democratic." South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn explained this morning the purposeful mis-pronunciation, "That's the way we put people down in the south and I think they picked up on it."

* Every year at the State of the Union, there's one Cabinet official who remains in a secure location off Capitol Hill in case a Tom Clancy-like attack destroys the rest of the government. Last night it was Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general and former White House counsel. Chuck Todd, the Hotline's editor, joked today, "What would the liberal Dems have thought of that? President Gonzales." The crowd laughed. Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes quipped back, "Thank goodness we got through it without incident."

* Lastly, another linguistic note: There's an ongoing disagreement about what to call the large crop of newly elected congressmen. Evidently, the Class of 2006 has decided that the term "freshmen" isn't appropriate. For one thing, it's gender-specific. For another, according to the class linguists, there's more power in calling themselves "new members," conferring upon them membership in Congress and also uniting them into a class. As "freshman" Representative Jason Altmire (D-Penn.) explained, anyone in advertising will say that the two most effective words are "new" and "free," and the 2006 elections, the most expensive congressional elections ever, were certainly not free. Thus the branding of the "new" members. Congressman Clyburn, an old school member and the Democrat's party whip, repeatedly tripped himself up on the phrase.

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