“Bed-wetting” refers to someone who expresses doubt or excessive worry about a political outcome.
The term “bed-wetting” in politics has roots in psychological analogies.
Much like a child’s fear leading to a loss of control in the night, it is used to denote overreaction, fear, panic, or a loss of control within the political landscape.
Origin of “Bed-Wetting”
David Plouffe, President Barack Obama’s former campaign manager and top political adviser, first coined the term in 2008 when Democrats began openly fretting about their political challenges, ABC News reports.
It may not be a pleasant image, but that’s the phrase used inside Obamaworld when Democrats start worrying about their political fortunes.
Plouffe used the term again before the 2010 midterm elections in a Washington Post op-ed when he urged “no bed-wetting” among Democrats:
This will be a tough election for our party and for many Republican incumbents as well. Instead of fearing what may happen, let’s prove that we have more than just the brains to govern — that we have the guts to govern.
Primarily used by politicians, campaign managers, and political strategists, “bed-wetting” typically aims to chastise or mock a person or group for perceived overreaction or alarm about a particular issue, candidate, or political event.
It’s often used to diminish the concerns or fears of others by likening them to immature or irrational behavior.
During political campaigns and election seasons, the term may be employed to criticize a political party or supporters for reacting prematurely or excessively to polls, political gaffes, or other campaign-related events.
For example, if a party’s supporters are alarmed by a slight dip in polling numbers, they might be accused of “bed-wetting,” suggesting that their fears are exaggerated or unfounded.
Within policy debates, “bed-wetting” may be used to describe unnecessary panic or fear regarding potential consequences of a policy decision.
It’s a way to criticize those who are opposed to a particular policy, arguing that their concerns are based on unfounded or exaggerated fears.
While it can be an effective rhetorical tool to minimize an opponent’s concerns, the use of “bed-wetting” can also backfire.
It may be seen as belittling or dismissive, undermining the user’s credibility, or alienating those who feel that the concerns being dismissed are valid and serious.
More on Bed-Wetting
A person who expresses doubts; a worrywart.
Politics is an exercise in building up confidence among the like-minded. When that isn’t achievable, pejorative terms such as this one pop up. The expression has been around for decades, but has come into vogue in recent years. Both parties use it to call out dissenters within their ranks.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial section, a reliable bastion of conservatism, sneered in August 2012: “Much as we predicted last week, the Republican Party’s Bedwetter Caucus has emerged on schedule to explain why Mitt Romney can’t possibly win the election with Paul Ryan on the ticket.”
Across the ideological spectrum, Barack Obama’s campaign mastermind David Plouffe became known for often castigating doomsayers with this childhood affliction. In a 2010 Washington Post opinion piece about what his party had to do to recover in time for the midterm elections, Plouffe listed several prescriptions, among them: “No bed-wetting.” (It wasn’t enough for his party, which got shellacked that year.)
From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.
Use of “Bed-Wetting” in a sentence
- As the polls began to shift slightly in the opposing candidate’s favor, the campaign manager accused the party’s supporters of bed-wetting, insisting that they were overreacting to a minor fluctuation in numbers.
- During the heated debate on environmental regulations, the senator dismissed the opposing party’s concerns as mere bed-wetting, arguing that their fears of economic downturn were exaggerated and unfounded.
- In response to the political analysts’ constant worry over the upcoming elections, a well-known pundit commented, “This is just another case of bed-wetting; the situation is far from dire, and these concerns are blown out of proportion.”
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.