"When we look at Elena Kagan's resume, what we find is a woman who has spent much of her adult life working to advance the goals of the Democratic Party."
--Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Except that, I would say, “what we find is a party that has spent my entire adult life working to advance the goals of women.” The Democratic Party is the party of women, at least the women drawn to women’s issues—abortion, equal rights, education funding, health care, peace/anti-war. Unmarried women, college educated or not (and 60% of college graduates today are women), are a core Democratic constituency. Democrats, “their” party, advance women’s issues.
A Democratic woman, Hillary Clinton, was the party’s leading candidate for president until Obama upset her in Iowa early in 2008; still Clinton ended the primaries with 18.2 million total votes to Obama’s 18.0 million, and Obama wisely awarded her his top cabinet post—Secretary of State. A Democratic woman, Nancy Pelosi, heads one of Congress’s two houses.
Democratic women in the Senate (16) are 61.5% of the way to a theoretical goal of 26 seats—a majority of the majority party (women don’t want it all, just their rightful half). In the House, Democratic women (56) are 51.4% of the way to a theoretical goal of 109 seats; a majority of the House majority. And most significantly, Elena Kagan’s confirmation will make Democratic women, all unmarried (Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s husband just passed away), three of the Supreme Court’s liberal four.
When a liberal Democrat woman looks from her corner office out at the nation she helps run, what does she see? Government, at all levels is hers. The publications she reads, the news she watches, the culture she enjoys, the foundations she works with—all hers. Her party deserves power, for they are sincere about helping working class Americans through the unions Democrats support, they fought and won civil rights battles for blacks and Hispanics, they gave seniors security in their old age, they keep the powerful trial lawyers happy.
In all these endeavors, her party struggles against a common enemy—Republicans backed by the wealth of anti-government business, and the votes of less educated (a polite word) rightwing Christians. She knows these voting blocs theoretically, but personally, our female, college graduate leader is more likely to know her European peer than a working class American not providing her a service.
Helping Democrats retain power is figuratively, not literally of course, a matter of life and death. Democrats and the elite have worked together over four decades to build the world they currently enjoy. Until 1994, no matter who was in the White House, Democrats mostly controlled Congress as well as the Washington bureaucracy, and when Democrats lost Congress in 1994, Bill Clinton remained as president until 2001 (the era of television’s “West Wing,” the good president).
In 2001, Democrats lost the presidency even though Al Gore won the popular vote, but Democrats managed to win back the Senate when Vermont's Jim Jeffords left the GOP that June to vote with Democrats. In the broad sweep of history from 1955 onward, only from 2003 through 2006 did Republicans formally control both the White House and Congress, and George W. Bush was under withering attack most of those four years.
Now a time of true liberal Democratic ascendancy is drawing to a close (see my five “Six Months” posts). But the lessons of ownership tell us those struggling to hold onto what they have fight harder than those trying to take the possessions away. Republicans are in for a real war.
In Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (2008), Dan Ariely discusses how we overvalue what we have, making irrational decisions about ownership. Ownership—as in liberals owning our political system through the Democratic party—leads us to value an object much more than if we do not own the object. Ariely calls this phenomenon the “endowment effect”—placing a higher value on property once we have possession. Ariely found, for example, that Duke students who received basketball tickets through a lottery valued them ten times more than the students who did not receive them.
Ariely gives three reasons for the “endowment effect”: 1) ownership is such a big part of our society that we focus on what we may lose rather than on what we may gain; 2) the connection we feel to what we own makes it difficult for us to dispose of them, and; 3) we assume others will see the transaction through our eyes. The "peculiarities" of ownership mean that the harder we work to get something, the more we feel it’s our own.
According to the Gallup poll, the liberals who feel such ownership over our political system today are but 20% of electorate. Conservatives, at 42%, hold their highest share since the “wave” election they won in 1994.