Commentary: 'Life of Julia' is a life without ambition

The Kansas City StarMay 17, 2012 

The right-wing blogosphere has been having a fine time with the “The Life of Julia,” the Obama campaign’s attempt to show, through a series of USA Today-style illustrations, how the policies of President Obama come to the aid of women at every important moment in their lives.

At 3, we see little Julia enrolled in a Head Start program. At 17, she’s in a Race to the Top high school. Later she has surgery and receives free birth control, thanks to Obamacare.

The story goes on: She has a career as a web designer, gets a Small Business Administration loan, then “decides” to have a child and names him Zachary. Zachary is apparently begotten by immaculate conception, since Julia never marries and no one else appears in the story.

“The Life of Julia” details the cradle-to-grave attention this supposed Everywoman receives from the caring people in the government. Thanks to Obama, she enjoys a comfortable retirement. Because of that, she can volunteer at a community garden.

The illustrations also show how Republican Mitt Romney would blight this story of placid contentment. Forget Head Start. Under Romney, that program would be cratered by budget cuts. Race to the Top? Ditto. And on and on, until the nation’s crops are burned by Republicans, the fields sown with salt and all the small furry animals are eaten by free-market fanatics.

I couldn’t resist. “The Life of Julia” has spawned parodies everywhere, but the topper is the sendoff at Iowahawk.typepad.com. A sample: At age 3 under President Obama, “Julia is enrolled in a Great Leap program where she will learn critical community organizing and obedience skills....”

Under Mitt Romney, poor little Julia “will be marched to a Mormon polygamy camp in Utah where Paul Ryan will torture her with boring Republican math mumbo jumbo.” And so on.

Parody aside, I’m at a loss to understand how this drab story could galvanize support for Obama’s re-election. Who could identify with Julia? She never finds love. Until Zachary arrives, she’s alone in the world. She claims no real accomplishments. Throughout, she remains passive. She stays within the channel laid down for her by the government. I wondered if they left out the story of her lobotomy.

“The Life of Julia” reveals much about its originators and the man on whose behalf it was created. Here we see the sterile vision of a certain kind of hard-left liberal, who apparently views the American citizen as a submissive, isolated entity — docile and disconnected from extended family or the web of groups and associations that make up a healthy civil society.

Omitted is any mention of the cost of Julia’s benefits, how they will be financed or, more to the point, how this vision, translated into policy, will change our notion of who we are as Americans.

Up to now we’ve put a high value on self-sufficiency, while acknowledging the need for a safety net for support in old age or temporarily, when life deals a bad hand. Julia, by contrast, is supported at virtually every step with subsidies of various sorts.

In Obama’s first address to Congress, he outlined a radically ambitious legislative program that made it clear his larger goal was to fundamentally change the relationship between Americans and their government.

One of the major underlying issues in this year’s election is to what extent we will, as Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute put it, continue to value “earned success,” or slide into “learned helplessness.”

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