Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Missing the point on "Julia"

The Obama Campaign's "Life of Julia" has generated a fair amount of discussion. Ostensibly the life story of a women from birth to retirement, the interactive piece points out how Julia benefits from the government policies and programs championed by the President...and how much worse off she would be if Romney's polices--as interpreted by the Obama Campaign--were in force.

Many conservative-leaning thinkers were quick to pounce on the piece for essentially portraying Julia--and women in general--as "wards of the State." From their vantage point, the story is one of over-reliance on the government, on a profound lack of self-reliance. And I largely concur: safety nets are a last recourse, not a standard feature of life. Of course, some of the benefits touted in the piece are not safety net types of things, at all.

But even these things are not policies to rely on, many are just policies designed to secure political support. College-age Julia (18 years old) benefits from Obama's policies thusly:
As she prepares for her first semester of college, Julia and her family qualify for President Obama's American Opportunity Tax Credit—worth up to $10,000 over four years.
What is the American Opportunity Tax Credit, one might ask? Well, simply put, it's an act that increased and extended the Hope Credit, so that more people will "benefit." The Hope Credit, which allows taxpayers to lower their tax liability (provided they don't make a lot of money) by up to $2500. And wonders of wonders, even if someone pays no income tax, they can still take the credit and receive up to $1000 from the government!

In other words, it's a gimmicky government giveaway being sold as something people should rely on. And it's based on a fundamentally flawed standard: that people should be treated differently, when it comes to taxes. In this case, people with children in college get special consideration (provided they aren't rich, of course). What about people without children? What about people with children who don't go to college? **** 'em.

But I digress. Now, there was some criticism--very limited--of "Julia" from liberal thinkers, as well. Consider this piece by Bryce Covert of the Roosevelt Institute (a progressive think-tank). Covert actually complains that the government isn't doing enough for poor Julia:
What was more significant for me was not that Julia relies on the government too much, but that the government is ignoring some major issues that she still needs it to address.
Emily Douglas at The Nation cites and echoes Covert's piece:
What’s most remarkable about “The Life of Julia” is how much the government doesn’t help her out with, as my colleague Bryce Covert observed. Paid leave to care for Zachary? Childcare after she goes back to work? There’s no government help for Julia there, giving her plenty of time to rely on the bonds of kinship Brown so prizes.
Got it? The "Life of Julia" shows that the government doesn't do enough, it's not "craddle to the grave," as it should be in the minds of these two writers and those in their crowd.

But I implied--in my title--that someone was missing the point. And it's these two, Ms. Covert and Ms. Douglas. That point is simple: not everyone is Julia. For if everyone was, society could not--would not--function. It's fun to pretend that every child should strive for and ultimately attend college, that every child should start their own business, be successful, then go about raising a family. But that's a fantasy. In the immortal words of Judge Smails from Caddyshack: "Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too!"

And I'm sorry if that comes across as harsh, but it's the plain truth. The government--which has designated functions--has limited resources. It really does. The idea that it can propel people--via policy--through the pipeline envisioned in "Julia" is just stupid. And dangerous. The belief in such an idea is partly why the debt is what it is today, partly why the "recovery" has been so anemic. And largely why there is a growing dependent class in the nation. Moreover, the fact of the matter is that not everyone wants to be Julia, much less can be Julia.

But the narrative would ignore such people and their daily contributions to everyday life. In fact, it would use those contributions--in the form of taxes collected--to achieve the narrative. And people like Douglas and Covert have the gall to argue that the narrative is still insufficient for Julia? That even more should be done for her? Really?

Perhaps the next time they congratulate each other for their vision over lattes at Starbucks, they might consider the people making the drinks, the people busily working blue collar jobs since high school who still manage to raise a family, to put food on the table, without the government's help. Or the people in white collar jobs, who--contrary to their opinions, I'm sure--work hard for their pay, as well, even when it seems to be so extravagant.

For these people--all of them--are the country's tax base, the people whose labor funds the government and the services it provides. And again, safety nets can be and are a valid function of the government. But a tailor-made career track for Julia? No. People should be free to pursue their own dreams, it is true. But not at the expense of everyone else. Because suppose Julia doesn't have what it takes--the smarts, the drive, or both--to succeed in college, to be a web designer, to start her own business? Suppose she fails? The rest of the nation should be on the hook for the costs incurred?

And if she does "have what it takes," why does she need the government so much? After all, she'll be a part of the tax base, too. Government-funded childcare, for instance, would just represent a needless movement of resources, from Julia, to the government, then back to Julia. Simply let her keep more of what she earns and she can pay for her own childcare. Right?

Cheers, all.


  1. the primary purpose of our government, in the post WWII era, is to enlarge and empower the government. Julia, AND the scenario created for her, are simply tools for that purpose.


  2. I think "Julia" shows the electorate that Obama does have a plan that will allow for all this government assistance and provide for "cradle to grave" help from Uncle Sam. You see, there is a reason the narative ends when Julia is 67. The Obamacare death panels will insure that "President for Life" Obama will not need to pay out any social security benefits, it will only serve as a revenue producing program. (No beneficiary payouts either).