The Cocoon

September 4, 2003

A reader asks:

Please explain to me how Democrats can maintain discipline and the party line so much more than Republicans can? Every time Senators Hagel, Lugar, or McCain are on national TV, they are voicing disagreement with the president on every issue. I can not recall a single democratic senator (except Zell Miller or maybe Breaux of Lousiana) ever getting out of line.

The answer is that politicians don’t live in the same world as ordinary people. They live in a cocoon of limousine liberals, liberal reporters, liberal newspapers, liberal government workers and liberal lawyers. Hence the expression “Going Washington.”

But all is not lost. As Peter Mulhern noted in an very influential piece, because Democrats live in a liberal cocoon and are fiercely partisan, they’re much more likely to alienate their constituents and lose elections:

But swimming against the current is not all bad. When you have to fight for every inch you are never in danger of overconfidence. When your enemies are constantly in your face they can never ambush you.

The press never lets Republicans forget their political vulnerabilities. Their opponent’s playbook is splashed all over the editorial pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times. Sometimes, even in politics, forewarned is forearmed.

Washington Democrats, saturated as they are in the culture of the left, are forever setting themselves up for sucker punches. The Post and the Times aren’t going to tell them where they’re likely to get into trouble and they frequently can’t figure it out for themselves.

Bill Clinton’s ill-fated attempt to make the military embrace homosexuality is a classic example. His administration was caught by surprise when that attempt generated a powerful political backlash. It never occurred to the Democrats that many people don’t accept homosexuality as a morally neutral life-style choice or that many people view the military as a bastion of traditional virtues.

The Bush administration has never had a similar debacle, in part because competence has returned to the White House, but also because Republicans know from bitter experience who’s going to pummel them, what they will be pummeled about, when they will be pummeled and where the pummeling will take place.

That was written in July, 2001, and it’s still true today. Mickey Kaus has noted the subtleties of the cocoon:

There are cocoons on both sides, but the people in the Republican cocoon tend to see themselves as an embattled minority (even when they’re not) while those in the Democratic cocoon tend to believe they have the tides of history and populism on their side, even when they don’t. … The best example of this is the way liberals always seem to think a union resurgence is around the corner, because they read reports all year about labor’s various campaigns and occasional victories. Then, when it turns out union membership has actually declined, it comes as a shock. …

There may be a difference here, too, between the Washington liberal cocoon and the New York liberal cocoon. New York liberals, as I discovered when campaigning in Manhattan in 1984 for South Carolina’s Sen. Ernest Hollings, tend to be aloof and isolated. They think the rest of America is populated by hopeless fundamentalist redneck hicks. As a result, they have a somewhat more realistic view of the prospects for a liberal tidal wave sweeping Democrats into power. The Washington cocoon is more respectful of the rest of the country, which, oddly, makes it more easily deluded. Washington’s liberal cocooners tend to convince themselves the nation’s filled with people like them, who care intensely about the Brady Bill and the liability limits in the patients bill of rights, and don’t much mind if there are gays in the military. Then, unlike snobby New York liberals, they’re rudely surprised. …

So take heart. Every cloud does, indeed, have a silver lining.

One Response to The Cocoon

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