May 7, 2012

Russ Douthat on "Julia"

Vacation was fun. Don't short your Disney stock just yet, that thing is the real deal. I spent two days on Mickey's Plantation (one chortles but it is an impressive organization). Then I rented a car because landlubbers like me cannot miss a chance to see the ocean. We drove up to Cape Canaveral and happened to arrive on an Atlas V launch day. That's my picture in the dictionary, next to "fortuitous."

A swell time, but I missed a couple big political stories. I kept up with the Chen Guangcheng case through ThreeSources and the WSJ Ed Page. I do not know that I have my head around that one yet. I believe in the liberalizing power of trade and remain unsure that a hard line stance from an American President who is not committed to liberty qua liberty is a good idea. I hope things turn out well but am not ready to take shots at Secretary Clinton or the President over this just yet.

However. The other story. Jee. Burzzz. Julia. I think they took the mask off and let the country peer deeply into their belief system. This is not dog eating; this is the philosophical debate of which ThreeSourcers dream.

As Russ Douthat mentions, we might lose. But we have a chance to discuss competing visions.

At the same time, 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.

The condescension inherent in this vision is apparent in every step of Julia's pilgrimage toward a community-gardening retirement. But in an increasingly atomized society, where communities and families are weaker than ever before, such a vision may have more appeal -- to both genders -- than many of the conservatives mocking the slide show might like to believe.


Game on. This is the question, and if liberty loses the American experiment is over. But I would rather discuss Julia than canines and contraception. It's [Wo]Man's relationship to the State. Game on.

UPDATE: I posted this before I had seen blog friend Terri's excellent take:

Creepy. And very disdainful of women. Julia being the example woman who receives government help throughout her whole life. (though there is that one section where she is probably paying more in taxes than she is receiving. I'm surprised Obama didn't mention the interstate highways that allow Julia to get from web job to web job or to go on vacations.)

It's an odd thing that they didn't mention those taxpaying years when Julia can "give back" to others who could use a leg up. That sort of thing. But no, instead Julia, little girl that she is, just relies on the government and doesn't contribute. Creepy.

Philosophy Posted by John Kranz at May 7, 2012 8:41 AM

A thousand thank yous for taking this up. I had been salivating at this gold mine of comparative opportunities but couldn't find time (or bring myself) to research the President's paper-doll website.

I do not find your assessment overwrought. If the life of Julia is preferable to a plurality of voters then we'll find out what it's like to be a real browncoat, not merely a rhetorical one.

Posted by: johngalt at May 7, 2012 5:14 PM

Everything mentioned in the life of Julia is a program pre-dating the Obama administration, apart from the ACA health-care reform. I'm not sure where you get the departure from Establishment Liberalism, or the threat to liberty -- apart from your taxes maybe having to go up a smidge to pay back the massive debt that's been run up. I guess you'd rather have all of these programs slashed to the point of inefficacy. In that case, why bother with a government at all?

Posted by: SWalkerTTU at May 9, 2012 11:09 PM

@SWalkerTTU: Thanks for the comment. We bother with a government to protect our liberties. I want a government to run the courts and repel foreign invaders and then leave me alone.

You're certainly right that President Obama has not caused this. The programs -- as you point out -- are the culmination of 100+ years of straying from Constitutional principles.

What Obama has done is integrate this vision into his campaign. As Douthat says, it is more about government as a partner than a safety net. This differs from FDR-Truman-LBJ liberalism if only in honesty.

I bring it up because it is my favorite topic. I expect gay marriage and contraception and dog eating and the war on women to sort themselves out fairly well over time. But man's relationship to the state drives me: whether your vision of government or mine will prevail is interesting and worthy of discussion.

I hope you will wander back this way to respond. And if you do, help me out with your handle I suspect SWalker refers to the Governor of Wisconsin but I am too dense to figure out TTU.

Posted by: jk at May 10, 2012 9:43 AM | What do you think? [3]