SALT LAKE CITY — President Barack Obama's campaign may have thought its flashy new infographic would be the perfect weapon to use against Mitt Romney in the "War on Women."
Instead, it was a perfect weapon for conservatives.
Known as "Life of Julia," the slideshow-style infographic follows a cartoon woman from infancy to retirement. With each major life event, visitors are told how she — and all women — will be helped by Obama-supported programs. It was typical Obama campaign fare: fresh, fun and Facebook-friendly.
But in making the infographic — and possibly without realizing it — the Obama camp touched on everything conservatives dislike about liberal philosophy. Extensive social programs, a cradle-to-grave government presence, non-nucelar families, a reduced religious presence and universal health care all make an appearance in the slideshow ad.
"'The Life of Julia' has done what many conservatives have failed to do so far — outline in exacting detail what modern Democratic policy wants for individuals," writes William Bennett, former U.S. secretary of Education. "Here we have Obama's 21st century synthesis of the Great Society, New Deal and New Frontier."
So when the Obama campaign rolled out "Life of Julia," it inadvertently gave Republicans months' worth of material to work with. It didn't help that Julia's idealistic life was far too easy to parody and that many of its claims didn't hold up under scrutiny. Conservatives are spending more time mocking Julia and attacking the ad's policies than defending Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan, who were criticized in the slideshow.
There has been some positive reaction to "Life of Julia;" it garnered over 37,000 Facebook "likes" in its first two days on the Internet and the Daily Beast's Judith Grey reported that many people are connecting with the ad's message about the effects of government policy on women. Overall, however, the slideshow has floundered in a sea of derision and days later is still being jeered to death online.
Of all the issues, the cradle-to-grave government assistance Julia receives has drawn the most ire. A host of government programs step in to help her during her life, whether she's preparing for kindergarten, going in for surgery, starting a business or getting ready to retire.
"Hi @BarackObama," conservative pundit Michelle Malkin tweeted. "I will read Life of #Julia to my kids to show them how NOT to live their lives — tethered to Nanny State."
Then there's universal health care, which shows up three times in Julia's life. When she turns 23 and gets a job, her birth control is covered on her employer's insurance plan thanks to Obamacare. That detail in particular is a significant jab for Republicans who fought against the issue in the recent contraceptive debates.
A few issues surprisingly haven't come up much in the conversation about Julia, though they pack plenty of punch.
When she's 31, Julia "decides to have a child" — peculiar phrasing, writes Jeffrey Anderson of the Weekly Standard, as no husband, boyfriend or even partner is mentioned. Julia presumably raises her son, Zachary, by herself and never gets married. All of this is simply more fodder for religious conservatives.
For most of her life, Julia isn't involved with a church or her neighborhood or even her family — though she does begin volunteering at a community garden after retiring. As for everything else, "the state has taken their place and is her primary relationship," Bennett writes — words sure to raise the eyebrows of anyone who believes in the "War on Religion."
The Obama team will likely recover from the "Julia" mess, but for the time being it has provided Republicans with a tremendous resource and the motivation to attack the president's social policies on nearly every front.
They'll be busy for a while.
Justin Ritter is a freelance journalist from Springville, Utah. He has reported on municipal and statewide elections and contributed to KBYU-TV's 2010 Election Special Report.
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