Ms. Julia, Democrat

Dear Readers,

As technology changes we expect that parties will try to adapt to use them.  In 2008, the "conventional wisdom" held that President Obama is President Obama in part because he did a better job of using new technologies: the VP announcement by cell phone, his presence on facebook, fundraising from individuals, etc. etc. 

One of the (I assume many) 2012 twists: Julia, the fabricated (dare I say: "composite?") woman aided by President Obama.  (See previous reference on the Stag Hunt: here.)  She's now playing the role of leading lady in the New York Times:

But maybe the White House doesn’t need a slogan. After all, it has a person instead: a composite character who’s been the talk of Washington these last few days, and whose imaginary life story casts the stakes in this presidential campaign into unusually sharp relief.

Republicans aren't going to let... her... get away with this.  See: here and here.  The NYT article is actually quite critical as well:

On the one hand, its public policy agenda is essentially a defense of existing arrangements no matter their effectiveness or sustainability, apparently premised on the assumption that American women can’t make cost-benefit calculations or indeed do basic math. In addition to ignoring the taxes that will be required of its businesswoman heroine across her working life, “The Life of Julia” hails a program (Head Start) that may not work at all, touts education spending that hasn’t done much for high school test scores or cut college costs, and never mentions that on the Obama administration’s own budget trajectory, neither Medicare nor Social Security will be able to make good on its promises once today’s 20-something Julias retire.

So much for the "liberal media." 

There's something else interesting about Julia: she is just so stereotypical.  For example:

  • Julia, as a small child, wears dresses and has bows in her hair.  She doesn't appear to do things like play with swords and she is certainly not covered with mud. 
  • Julia, at age 17, can "take the classes she needs to do well."  Incidentally, she's white and relatively skinny.  i.e., she's "all American."  She's not learning programming skills in her basement to start her own company.  She's not struggling to lose weight.  She's not really into weightlifting.  She doesn't cut her hair short.  She needs classes to do well. 
  • Julia, still at age 17, is going to college.  And getting loans to do it. 
  • Julia, in college, has surgery.  (Like most college students?).  She's got an earing by now and slightly longer hair --- but Julia does not appear to have cut loose.  She also has, apparently, a giant dorm room.  Additionally, this slide mentions that she can stay on her parents insurance until age 26 ---- and most people "like Julia" graduate when they are 22.  The biggest help with the insurance, of course, is to cover unemployed college graduates with a lot of loans and no hope of finding a job who are living at home.  The slide does not seem to want to draw our attention to this point.  (Although --- to be clear, I think it is fantastic that people under 26 can stay on their parents' insurance.)
  • Julia, after college, starts a career as a web designer.  Yes, because all of the women who work in the technology industry I know wear heels to work:

  • Also, out of college, Julia has a job
  • Julia, after college, can manage to keep the interest on her loans manageable because of President Obama.  This slide tells us that "Romney/Ryan" oppose such a plan.  This is misleading: Mitt Romney has been widely cited in the press as supporting this measure.  (Example: here).
  • As she gets older, the heels get slightly higher:

  • Julia, now older, still wears cute skirts.
  • Julia, after a while, decides to have children.
  • Julia's son rides to school on a yellow school bus.
  • Julia starts her own business.  We have no reason to believe it is anything other than a success... because we don't hear of her between age 42 and 65.
  • Julia is on medicare.  Because, yeah, that isn't going to run out in 12 years.
  • Julia, at age 67, volunteers in a community garden. 

To be clear: I am sure a reasonable person can make the case that President Obama is a better candidate for women in general (or America, in general) than Mitt Romney.  I do not in any way mean to write this as an endorsement for Mitt Romney.  It's just an interesting reflection on what the Obama campaign is saying about itself:

First, Julia is in no way unusual.  She's kind of hip, perhaps, but not unusual.  Yes, she works in a neat field like technology --- but not something so scientific as to scare off traditionalists.  She is not, for example, a physicist who figures out a way to make a new computer chip run twice as fast as current computer chips.  No, she's a web designer.  Hip but not threatening.  Note that she hits all the traditional landmarks: she goes to school, she has kids, she retires at about the right time, and she spends her retirement volunteering. 

Julia is not a badass. 

There are no references whatsoever to Julia playing sports.  Or getting a PhD.  Or traveling abroad.  Or some day saying, 'screw it, I'm going to get a tattoo.'  Or, really, having any kind of adventure at all.  At age 48, Julia does not achieve her life goal of joining the local search and rescue team, as far as we can tell.

While Julia has a child, we have no idea under what circumstances --- while careful not to suggest that Julia has a husband, the slide show is also silent on the alternatives.

Then there are the "missing issues:" Julia can get "equal pay," that's great.  No comment, though, about how much of it she and her male colleagues will have to pay back to the government --- making it more difficult to pay off those pesky student loans.  Julia gets all these wonderful things because the government spends money --- but there is no reference to how her son deals with the enormous national debt.  Of course, those are the things Republicans have in mind with their budget proposals.  It's not that the things mentioned are terrible things; they do, though, come with a completely unacknowledged trade off.

What is so fascinating about this slideshow is that it at once can leave real liberals feeling uninspired while making moderates angry about the apparent bias.  That's been an issue for President Obama's entire term.  At times he has tried to tack to the center --- his Supreme Court nominees were definitely centrists, he did not really push much for gay rights, he hasn't gone nearly as far as some would hope on climate change and alternative energy, he did not immediately exit the overseas wars and indeed fought another one, he did not close G. Bay, he's continued killing terrorists and asserting executive power, he yanked the "public option" on health care --- and this has left some of his original ideological supporters feeling abandoned.  At the same time, the partisan nature of the health care fight, the way he talks about wealth and bankers (see "fat cat bankers"), the occasional controversy over racial issues (see "beer summit"), etc. etc. have left moderates feeling as if he hasn't lived up to his promises to be the "post-partisan" president. 

Anyway, this is an interesting problem.  The internet has provided opportunities for campaigns to put up unusual material: longer ads on youtube, slideshows like this, and so on.  But there's not necessarily an "industry standard" about how they are done.  We'll just have to see how well Julia does with the electorate.

--- Stag Staff