Democrat Party leaders like to portray their organization as one standing up for the people - for "the little guy." Increasingly, however, the idea of doing what's best for your constituents is taking a back seat to doing what party leaders demand.
Step out of line, even slightly, and you risk being tarred and feathered by the liberal machine.
West Virginians are witnessing two examples of that: U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and state House of Delegates member Ryan Ferns.
Ferns is the Democrat freshman from Ohio County who resigned this week after being arrested on a DUI charge. He did the right thing in pleading guilty immediately and admitting he'd made a terrible mistake.
Now the liberal wing of the Democrat Party has an opportunity to replace Ferns with someone less, well, bipartisan. Ferns actually tried to represent the people of Ohio County, even when that meant working with Republicans. He and Delegate Erikka Storch, who also represents Ohio County, held town meetings together. She's a Republican.
It appears the 3rd Delegate District's Democrat Executive Committee will recommend a replacement for Ferns, with the final decision up to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Will the list he receives include people with Ferns' philosophy, or will it be limited to folks eager to tell Storch they're not about to appear on the same stage with her during a town meeting? We'll see.
Manchin is running for re-election this year and is disliked so much by liberal Democrat leaders that some have backed away from earlier endorsements of him. It doesn't seem to matter to them whether he wins the primary election, even though his opponent is an ex-Republican (Sheirl Fletcher of Morgantown).
But Manchin will win the primary and will go on to defeat Republican John Raese in the general election.
Why? It's simple - though some in the Democrat Party, both in West Virginia and in Washington, have forgotten the elementary rule of politics. It is that your constituents come first, your party second.
It should have been obvious: Manchin is in the seat formerly held by the late Robert Byrd, probably the most successful politician in state history. Byrd, though a staunch Democrat, frequently stood up to his party's leaders in Congress and the White House when he thought their agenda was bad for Mountain State residents.
Manchin has done precisely the same thing. He opposes President Barack Obama's war on coal. He recognizes the need to reduce government spending. Occasionally, he and Republican senators cooperate. Not infrequently he votes against measures supported by nearly all other Senate Democrats.
Just this week, defending himself against his party's ultra-partisans, Manchin said he always has been "a West Virginia Democrat to my core."
That puts a finger on the point missed by so many in the party's liberal wing. Manchin is a West Virginia Democrat, as was Byrd. That sometimes is not the same thing as a Washington, D.C., Democrat.
The Mountain State Democrat machine, which once held a two-to-one edge over Republicans in voter registration, is suffering because some of its leaders have lost touch with West Virginians. Registration for the May 8 primary election is just 52.25 percent Democrat, down nearly 3 points since 2009. Republican registration has held fairly steady, at 28.72 percent. But independents now comprise 17.17 percent of state voters.
In other words, some Democrats just can't bring themselves to register as Republicans - but don't see their historic party home as appealing, either.
And here's the thing: Many other Americans aren't far behind West Virginia. Democrats in many other states are wondering why their party is leaving them out in the cold in order to serve its leaders, such as Obama.
Politicians like Ferns and Manchin - and some party leaders who are more discreet about their bipartisanship - recognize that. At what point, I wonder, will they gain enough strength and confidence to take control?