In a political context, the term “mollycoddle” means to treat certain constituents or voters in an almost absurdly overprotective way. Typically used in the context of the “welfare state” and those who feel entitled to government assistance, those who have been labeled “mollycoddled” by politicians are usually the most vulnerable, and those seen as unable or unwilling to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
In its broadest sense, those who are “mollycoddled” are differentiated from so-called “people of action” or “go getters,” as they are seemingly too dependent on the government – or others – for help.
One of the most famous uses of the word dates back to a 1907 address by Teddy Roosevelt to Harvard students, when the 26th president famously warned them about becoming “too fastidious, too sensitive to take part in the rough hurly-burly of the actual work of the world.” He went on to decry colleges that “turn out mollycoddles instead of vigorous men,” and reinforced his point: “the weakling and the coward are out of place in a strong and free community.”
Clearly a favorite word of the 26th president, the Washington Post even describes Roosevelt as once referring to the sport of baseball as a “mollycoddle game,” not tough or violent enough for his liking.
The origins of the word “mollycoddle” can be traced back to early 19th century Britain, when it was used as a derogatory term for an overly effeminate man. In more modern times, the term has lost its homophobic overtones and is used more generally to deride the overprotected or overprivileged.
In recent years, the term “mollycoddled” has become synonymous with another political term, “snowflake,” which is also used to describe someone who’s too sensitive, too politically correct, and cloyingly disaffected.
In this 2014 article from Politico, the writer casts the entire population of America’s college kids as “mollycoddled babies,” citing their reliance on “trigger warnings” for any subject that might offend or traumatize their sensibilities.
Further, the term is sometimes used to deride a more pacifist worldview, as noted here in an article about former VP Dick Cheney. The article compares Cheney’s attitude about Obama’s Middle East policies to Teddy Roosevelt’s view of Woodrow Wilson when it came to our participation in world conflict. Roosevelt, about Wilson: “Professor Wilson, that Byzantine logothete, supported by all the flubdubs, mollycoddles, and flapdoodle pacifists.”
Indeed, modern day Republicans are the political party most likely to accuse voters of being “mollycoddled,” and it can be argued that the rise of Donald Trump is in some ways the direct result of this.