It’s Barack Obama’s World, and Julia Just Lives in It

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 6, 2012

If you have no life are a serious political junkie, you may have heard of “Julia,” a composite character made up by the Obama campaign to highlight supposed differences between the president’s policies, and those of Mitt Romney. We are meant to see and understand the import of those policies through the progression of Julia’s life; if Barack Obama is re-elected, Julia’s existence will allegedly be characterized by sweetness, sunshine, and pure, unadulterated joy–the likes of which did not exist since the Big Bang itself. But if Mitt Romney is elected, then Julia’s life will be marred with hardship and bitterness so severe and awful that it would make Satan himself weep with pity.

Of course, an awful lot of assumptions and premises go into the argument that Julia’s life is a representative one, and that it will either be a blessed or cursed one based on the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. And when an argument is based on a suspiciously large amount of assumptions and arguable premises, it is rendered oh-so-ripe for mockery. Obligingly, conservatives and right-of-center libertarians set phasers on “mock,” and fired at will. They also took on the Obama campaign’s premise that Julia can only have a better life if Barack Obama gets four more years in the White House.

Mocking the Julia campaign is great fun, to be sure. But there is a deeper point to be made about the campaign, as Ross Douthat notes:

[Julia's] an everywoman only by the standards of the liberal upper middle class: She works as a Web designer, has her first child in her early 30s (the average first-time American mother is in her mid-20s), and spends her golden years as a “volunteer at a community garden.” (It will not surprise you to learn that the cartoon Julia looks Caucasian.)

What’s more, she seems to have no meaningful relationships apart from her bond with the Obama White House: no friends or siblings or extended family, no husband (“Julia decides to have a child,” is all the slide show says), a son who disappears once school starts and parents who only matter because Obamacare grants her the privilege of staying on their health care plan until she’s 26. This lends the whole production a curiously patriarchal quality, with Obama as a beneficent Daddy Warbucks and Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan co-starring as the wicked uncles threatening to steal Julia’s inheritance.

[. . .]

. . . the slide show’s vision of the individual’s relationship to the state seems designed to vindicate every conservative critique of the Obama-era Democratic Party. The liberalism of “the Life of Julia” doesn’t envision government spending the way an older liberalism did — as a backstop for otherwise self-sufficient working families, providing insurance against job loss, decrepitude and catastrophic illness. It offers a more sweeping vision of government’s place in society, in which the individual depends on the state at every stage of life, and no decision — personal, educational, entrepreneurial, sexual — can be contemplated without the promise that it will be somehow subsidized by Washington.

Read the whole thing, which goes on to point out that many of the policy initiatives that supposedly make Julia’s life better, don’t. Douthat gives voice to the concern that “in an increasingly atomized society, where communities and families are weaker than ever before,” the notion of big government mollycoddling Americans through the stages of life might actually have some appeal to the electorate. I guess that we will find out. The immediate and most pressing issue that this election will address is the economy, but in deciding how we will vote, we will also decide whether we want to have freedom and autonomy in our lives, or whether–as the title of this post suggests–our lives will be best understood as mere offshoots of policy made in Washington. If we choose the latter, it ought to go without saying that we will also be opting for increased dependency on Washington.

It might have been interesting if Julia were given a boyfriend in the story the Obama campaign made up about her. It might also have been interesting if the boyfriend’s name was “Winston.” But I suppose that would have made things too obvious.

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