by Ryan Harvard
I had forgotten all about the “Life of Julia” until our YAL meeting when it came up during discussion. For those who don’t know, “Life of Julia” was a slide show that the Obama campaign released online around September 2012 that walked us through the life of “Julia”, a fictional, female citizen of the United States who would be taken care of by government programs from birth to death. I initially dismissed it as election rhetoric, concluding that it was simply the Obama campaign further refining their positions against Mitt Romney. I really didn’t really read into it all that much.
Looking at it several months later, I realize it’s far more disturbing than I originally thought. It truly is a pitch for a government-dependent life from cradle to grave, and it looks like it’s been (rightfully) criticized from both sides as being way too far-reaching.
But lately I’ve been scrambling to come up with a unified liberal ideology that’s representative of the modern democratic party. As someone who joined libertarianism from the left, I’m always inclined to find common ground with liberals, but it’s been getting harder and harder and I think “Life of Julia” is a key reason why. Liberals are beginning to believe that government programs shouldn’t just be available – they should be mandatory, and this is where I fundamentally differ from liberal politics. Public schools are a good example, since even as a libertarian, I’ve always been a huge proponent of public schools. Yes, yes, I hear my fellow libertarians jeering already, but hear me out here.
First of all, I’m a “Ron Swanson” libertarian – I think being a libertarian begins at age eighteen, so I tend to support government programs that act on behalf of children. When set up correctly, I think public schools can be (philosophically) libertarian and I think a public education is what you make of it – I went to a large, public, suburban high school with a wide variety of teachers and courses, and they provided me with a lot of options to customize my education – there was always a challenge available, or remedial classes, or clubs, or you could take more or fewer classes or even enroll in community college courses. But despite all these options, dropping out was not one of them, and this is where my libertarian sensibilities begin to ache. What the “Life of Julia” doesn’t show is what happens when Julia doesn’t necessarily want to go to high school or college or would like to fund her own healthcare. What happens if, at any time, she’d like to deviate from the government-mandated track, even making a less extreme decision than dropping out of high school? Well, if she was a minor she’d be hit with truancy laws. If not, she’d still have to pay for the adult programs via taxes, which means that the folks behind “Life of Julia” don’t truly see dropping out as a viable option.
And I think a liberal might explain that those options aren’t available because it’s best for society if she didn’t deviate from that track, and therein lies the cravasse between liberals and libertarians – a crevasse I, myself, jumped a number of years ago. I don’t think it’s fair for the government to cast this mold of “Julia” and require every citizen to squeeze into it. I think the best society is one in which each citizen decides how they best contribute using their own skill set, not how they can best contribute within the confines of a mold defined by government dependence. “Life of Julia” is a perfect visualization of the dangerous direction the democratic party has started deviating towards – there’s this subtle mantra of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us,” or, in other words, you can choose to be against us, but you’re going to support us (through taxes) no matter what. This isn’t right – liberalism should be about offering options, not mandates. Libertarianism takes it another step back and says “make your own damn options” which is, ideally, even better, but that’s a discussion for another time.
It’s disappointing that liberals tend not to analyze their own ideology like libertarians do. If more liberals took a good look in the mirror, they might not recognize what they see any longer. I’m always hoping that the next drastic overreach is the tipping point for the party realizing how far off path they are and drawing back to normalcy, but if a kill-list, drones, internet regulation, Guantanamo, a trashed foreign reputation, and “Life of Julia” aren’t doing it, I don’t know what will.