Escape From the Life of Julia
There were plenty of flaws in the victory speech with which President-elect Donald Trump just kicked off his "Thank You Tour" of swing states. I hope he'll stick with his free-market plans to cut taxes and scrap regulations and jettison his state-planning proposal to punish companies for leaving the country (prosperity will come of free markets, not of presidentially directed industrial policy). And Shakespeare he's not; nor, for that matter, is he a Winston Churchill or Ronald Reagan.
But when Trump stood up in front of that Cincinnati crowd, looked into the cameras of national television, and proclaimed "America will start winning again bigly," what came over me -- not for the first time since Nov. 8th -- was a sweeping sense of relief.
Yes, there are yuge problems looming, at home and abroad. President Obama has guaranteed us cliff-hanger crises ahead, with his eight years of central planning, profligate spending, politicized law, apologies for America, betrayal of our allies, pandering to our enemies, and postmodern"narratives" designed to emulsify all common sense (Obama's erstwhile legacy deal for an "exclusively peaceful" Iranian nuclear program comes to mind).
Trump, even if he pursues the wisest of plans with the best of intentions, will have his hands full. We don't yet know how he will govern in practice. It's likely he's not quite sure either.
But here's something that really is huge. With last month's election, as underscored by the crowd celebrating Trump in Cincinnati, this country now has a fighting chance to escape the Life of Julia.
You remember "The Life of Julia"? Julia was the faceless female figure in the interactive slide show -- or "online tool" -- rolled out by Obama's re-election campaign in mid-2012, to advertise the many ways in which Obama's brand of state-paternalism promised to usher women through life. The original campaign production has since vanished from the internet, but articles about it remain, and one enterprising soul has dug up the original Julia slides and pieced them together on YouTube. It's a pretty good summary of where Obama has been taking America; a fundamental transformation into a statist gray zone that was the basic issue on the ballot this November.
To recap, Julia at age three prepares for kindergarten in a Head Start program improved by Obama. Her high school is part of the Race to the Top program "implemented by President Obama." For college, she is one of millions of students receiving a Pell Grant, and her family benefits from "President Obama's American Opportunity Tax Credit." During college, she has surgery, which is covered by Obama's healthcare reform, which lets her stay on her parents' plan till she is 26.
At 23, Julia starts a career as a web designer, her "equal pay" assured by the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. She can dispense with worries about paying down her student loans, because Obama has "capped income-based student loan payments and kept interest rates low" (yes, this is the same program that now has taxpayers on the hook for $108 billion in losses, and counting). Thanks to Obamacare, her health insurance perforce covers her birth control and preventive care, and when she decides at 31 to have a child -- with no visible spouse, partner or other family arrangement in sight -- Obama's "healthcare reform" covers all maternity costs.
At 42, Julia starts her own web business -- with a loan from the Small Business Administration. At 65 she enrolls in Medicare. At 67 she retires on Social Security, and thanks to her government checks (which miraculously pay for everything she needs) she can while away the rest of her time on earth volunteering at a "community garden."
Poor Julia. Not only does she have no face, but she has virtually no individuality-- even in retirement, she tends the community's garden, not her own. She is basically a ward -- and a phantasm -- of the state. She spends more than six decades going from one federal program, handout, and subsidy, to the next.
Missing entirely from this vision of state-curated womanhood was any mention of the real cost, or who will cover it. As David Harsanyi asked, in a 2012 article for Human Events, "Who the hell is 'Julia,' and why am I paying for her whole life?"
Though, as Harsanyi also noted, the financial cost to others of Julia's state-chaperoned life is just part of the toll. There is also the deadening of the spirit -- Julia's, and ours:
What we are left with is a celebration of how a woman can live her entire life by leaning on government intervention, dependency and other people's money rather than her own initiative or hard work. It is, I'd say, implicitly un-American, in the sense that it celebrates a mindset we have -- outwardly at least -- shunned.
I'd add that it's not just women who have been designated under Obama for a life in which all roads lead to Big Brother; it's all Americans. It's Pajama Boy in his zip-up plaid onesie, drinking hot chocolate in his parents' finished basement while enthusing about state-mandated health insurance. It's the millions who have dropped out of the labor force, the taxpayers who are dunned to support the dole, the would-be employees and employers who instead of joining forces on their own terms to create wealth in the marketplace are spending their time -- unemployed and out of business -- trying to navigate the regulatory, redistributive maze that is the real life of Julia.
In a state in which central planners call the shots, we are less and less free to choose. Individual enterprise becomes desperately unrewarding, or even illegal. Freedom fades, and bureaucratic dictates supplant the information and incentives that are part of free markets. Economic growth declines, and people fight over access to the favors of the state elite and their bureaucratic retinue, the overlords who decide who gets what slice of the shrinking vegetarian meatloaf.
That's the real life of Julia, the direction in which the country has been heading for too many years now, while Obama has scolded Americans that whatever they earn, or achieve, or invent, belongs -- cradle-to-grave -- to someone else: "You didn't build that."
To watch America in recent years spiraling down into the life of Julia has been excruciating. This is a country made great not by conquest, or constraints, or cross-subsidies, but by freedom and free enterprise. Long before the welfare state offered free amenities (courtesy of American taxpayers), it was freedom that drew people to America, and fueled the melting pot -- the real form of "inclusivity" -- once they arrived. Our true iconic figures -- if you plumb the American spirit -- are not Julia and Pajama Boy, but sharpshooter Annie Oakley and that out-sized folklore lumberjack of the Western frontier, Paul Bunyan. This is the country that led the way to victory in World War II, and during the Cold War stood -- and in some places fought -- as a bulwark of freedom.
This is the country that 30 years ago inspired the talented American newsman and humorist P.J. O'Rourke to write a brilliant and politically incorrect retort to a European critic, at the end of an article titled "Among the Euro-Weenies." O'Rourke's language is not for children, but below is an excerpt that will give you the gist. He's in London, at the lit-glitz Groucho Club, listening to a European who has just been saying that Americans know nothing about war because their country has never been invaded. O'Rourke doubles down, replying:
Let me tell you who those bad guys are. They're us. WE BE BAD... We're three-quarters grizzly bear and two-thirds car wreck and descended from a stock market crash on our mother's side. You can take your Germany, France, and Spain, roll them all together and it wouldn't give us room to park our cars. We're the big boys, Jack, the original, giant, economy-sized, new and improved butt-kickers of all time.
That is the American energy and spirit -- and humor -- that seems to be stirring again, after the descent toward the cramped and somnolent life of Julia.
I don't think this American spirit is racist, or xenophobic, or misogynist, or any of the other -ists and -ics and -isms that have been tossed around during the recent election campaign, and hurled at Trump in particular. I think we are seeing America shaking off the shadow of Julia, and seeking to recover its strength, and its wits.
To recover fully is a tall order. There is by now a vast and many-layered web of entitlements and regulations that will be hard to unspin, and tempting for those now in power to preserve. There are enormous debts coming due, and there is an urgent need to restore America's lost muscle and credibility abroad.
How far Trump might lead, or in precisely what direction, where he will falter and in what he will succeed -- all these things are still unclear. Personally, I prefer the cadence of "liberty and justice for all" to such locutions as "winning again bigly." But if Trump manages to shrink the Obama state and drain the Washington swamp, especially if he does it bigly, that would be a huge leap in the direction of liberty and justice. At least he is pointing, broadly, in the right direction. Americans have, at least for now, changed the trajectory that was dooming us to the Life of Julia. That alone is a deliverance.