The Obama campaign has launched a webpage called "The Life of Julia," about a fictional woman who benefits from Obama-supported government programs all her life.
The fact that the Obama campaign chose to tell her story in highly stylized graphics—not with live actors, "Harry and Louise" style—was a deliberate choice. It allows the campaign to convey much more partisan information than a 30-second ad, it appeals to younger women, and it looks hip. (Even the New York Times called it "slick.") The campaign also made an intentional choice to make the story fictional, presumably because the campaign couldn't find enough actual women who are willing to say they depend on government programs for everything they need in life. In fact, had they gone looking, they might have learned that many of us find the notion of women needing so much help to be insulting.
So what we know about Julia: She is a college grad who benefits from Pell grants and tax credits and student loans; a surgery patient who stays on her parents' health insurance; a Web designer who sues for equal pay and gets free birth control; a single mother whose son has great teachers thanks to President Obama; a small business owner who hires employees thanks to an Small Business Administration loan; a Social Security and Medicare recipient who gets affordable healthcare and monthly benefits. But let's look at what Julia is not.
First of all, she's not a man. Because she's a woman, the message becomes one of a benign, paternal state taking care of vulnerable women. It's far less threatening than if we were watching an able-bodied man sliding into increasing dependency on the welfare state over the course of his life. Plus the Obama campaign knows that Romney has been consistently leading among male voters in the polls. He may have the upper hand with women voters, but what no one talks about is Obama's gender gap among men. Very few men would identify with Julia's life, and the campaign knows that.
Second, she's not a taxpayer. There is no mention of her paying for the cost of any programs she's benefited from, other than repaying her student loans. It's clear the campaign is purposely putting Julia squarely in the near-majority of Americans who no longer pay any federal income taxes, emphasizing an entitlement mentality at the expense of hard-working taxpayers who have to pay for it all. If the choice is between working people who pay taxes and those who rely on government assistance, the Obama campaign is not going with the taxpayers.
She's not a minority or an immigrant. There's a reason the campaign chose the generic name "Julia." Can you imagine the outrage if the character was called "Juanita" or had been drawn to look African-American? The disapproval would be off the charts, because it would imply that black or Latina women in particular are unable of succeeding without government handouts. Despite the fact that Obama has double-digit leads among African-Americans and Hispanics, the campaign knew better than to portray the beneficiary of so much government money as a minority woman.
She's not married, she doesn't do anything that reveals she's religious, and she's not a homeowner. There's a reason for all those, too—because poll after poll shows that Obama doesn't do as well with married women; he's more popular with single women and college grads. The National Association of Realtors reports that the vast majority of homeowners are married couples, not single women; again, most married couples vote GOP. When it comes to religion, Pew Research shows that Democrats have a two-to-one lead among those who say they are "unaffiliated" with a church. Hence, Julia doesn't go to church, doesn't pay a mortgage, and isn't married. The campaign knows exactly who it wants to see this—and if those voters could send it to their girlfriends via Facebook, that would be even better.
And finally, we don't know what happens to Julia between ages 42 and 65, her prime earning years. At 42, she's dressed for casual Friday as she starts her own business; by 65 she's in granny glasses and her hair in a bun, looking for her Medicare check. What happened in those 23 years, and how many other government handouts did she get thanks to Obama—99 weeks of unemployment benefits? Food stamps? Welfare? Public housing? Was Medicaid still solvent enough to send her a check?
Here's a thought. Maybe those 23 years are missing from "The Life of Julia" for a reason. Perhaps her small business became wildly successful—so she started paying taxes, got concerned about the debt crisis facing our nation, and started voting Republican. If that's the case, there might be a happy ending to this story after all—one that the Obama campaign couldn't bear to tell.