David Brooks, the usually buttoned-down columnist for the New York Times, succumbed recently to a peculiar eruption of Id. Like many of his fellow conservatives, he’s in a snit about The Life of Julia, an Obama campaign slideshow that portrays the title character benefiting from federal programs like Head Start and Social Security. (See my previous article here.) Brooks casts Julia as a “vision of government as national Sugar Daddy, delivering free money and goodies up and down the life cycle.” My attention was riveted by that term, “Sugar Daddy,” which doesn’t just refer, say, to a rich uncle, but to an older man who showers gifts on a young woman, often, by implication, in return for sexual favors. It’s difficult to imagine Brooks taking a detour into so dark a recess of the imagination if it had been The Life of James.
The president’s re-election campaign recently unveiled an Internet slideshow demonstrating to women some possible consequences of their votes this fall. The Life of Julia, a mini-biography in 11 episodes, has an imaginary toddler, Julia, enrolling in a Head Start program, a 27-year-old Web-designer Julia benefiting from mandated preventive health care coverage, and a retiree Julia living “comfortably” on Social Security. And it contrasts the fate of these programs under Obama and Romney policies. Visually engaging but hardly dramatic, well-pitched but far from edgy as campaign advertising, The Life of Julia, I am tempted to say, is not all that interesting in itself.
Not so the conservative response to Julia. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, pronounced the slideshow “creepy” and “demeaning.” Julia’s life is “banal and hackneyed,” wrote William Bennett, in a more literary frame of mind. Ross Douthat perceived liberal “condescension” at every turn of Julia’s fictional life.