One aspect of President Obama's philosophically revealing — and mock-worthy — "Julia" web ad doesn't seem to have garnered as much attention as one might have expected. Just as Julia's life of government dependency isn't likely to inspire a new set of books along the lines of the celebration of self-reliance and freedom depicted in the Little House on the Prairie series, her romantic life isn't likely to spawn any sequels to Jane Austen novels.
Julia, of course, is the fictional subject of the newly released Obama ad. She leads a rather bland, conformist, and dependent life — a life more reminiscent of the centrally planned lives in Brave New World than of the vibrant lives led by so many Americans from the founding generation, through the era of Abraham Lincoln and Huckleberry Finn, to the present day. Throughout the ad, we’re shown what Julia is doing at various points in her life with the help of the Obama administration's myriad regulations and taxpayer-funded federal programs.
When Julia, who never entirely seems to grow out of childhood in her own right, hits the age of 31, we are told that she "decides to have a child."
This is peculiar phrasing. There's no mention of Julia having first decided to get married, and no mention of Julia's husband — or even of her dating anyone — in any of the snippets shown from any of the stages of her life. Perhaps the ad simply doesn't mention Julia having gotten married because it was one of the few noteworthy events in her life that didn't involve the active assistance of the federal government.
Still, it would be a rather strange choice to convey Julia's and her husband's (or even her boyfriend's) desire to start a family by using the phrase, "Julia decides to have a child." Who would say this? Nor does the ad suggest that Julia has found herself in an unenviable predicament and is now simply trying to do the right thing — it doesn't say, "Having unexpectedly gotten pregnant, Julia decides to have the child."
No, by all appearances, Julia has planned this pregnancy, by herself, from the start. Moreover — and most disturbingly — the ad suggests that Obama thinks this is a good thing, worthy of federal support (in the form of Obamacare benefits, which are listed as being offered to Julia at this juncture).
Aside from the total lack of romantic spirit on display in this stage of Julia's life, one wonders what Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the longtime Democratic senator from New York, would have thought of this ad. Moynihan famously highlighted the decline of the American family — particular of black Americans’ families. He highlighted that, as of 1963, the out-of-wedlock birthrate had risen to an alarming 24 percent among black Americans (from 17 percent in 1940), compared to 3 percent among white Americans (from 2 percent in 1940). He noted that this “breakdown” in the family structure “led to a startling increase in welfare dependency.”
Fast-forwarding to the present day, the New York Times reports that these numbers are now 73 percent (for black Americans) and 29 percent (for white Americans). Overall, 41 percent of American children are now born out of wedlock — including 53 percent of American children born to women under the age of 30.
In his choosing to present Julia’s decision in cheerful tones and brag about the federal support he would offer to help make it possible, perhaps Obama could be defended on the grounds that Julia’s life is nearly (to quote the Times) "the new normal" — although not quite — in this vein. But would Moynihan so casually have released such an ad? Would he have condoned at least implicitly awarding the presidential seal of approval to this lifestyle choice? (And in Julia’s case it seemingly is a lifestyle choice, not a reaction to unplanned events.) Moreover, shouldn’t Obama be aware of the heavy price that many Americans, and especially inner-city black Americans, have paid for the decline of the American family? Shouldn’t he be doing something, at least rhetorically, to try to reverse this trend?
In a sense, however, it's not surprising that Obama would instead subtly offer the opposite message. After all, observers from Plato to Moynihan (and beyond) have noted the inverse relationship between the strength of the family and the strength of the state.