Jay Cost | Spoiling Julia Rotten

Both liberals and conservatives believe they are republicans, that their policies will benefit all Americans, not just a privileged elite. Furthermore, both political parties pay lip service to this republican view of government, but in reality they are often ready, willing, and able to play favorites, doling out government benefits to their supporters (paid for, usually, by their political opponents).

And that is what “The Life of Julia” is all about. It is liberalism, for sure, but it certainly is not a republican brand of it. It is almost a perfect articulation of antirepublican, client group liberalism, which unhappily has come to define the Democratic party under Obama. Put simply, the message of the ad is that this woman should vote for Obama because of all the great benefits he will offer her.

Michael Barone has often referred to Obama’s political approach as the “Chicago way,” and here we can see a version of that method at work. It was the urban political machines—like Chicago’s Daley operation and before it New York’s Tammany Hall—that mastered the decidedly antirepublican relationship of patron and client as well as any organization in world history. Politics was not a contact sport in the big cities so much as it was a contract sport. Recall Rod Blagojevich’s colorful description of Obama’s open Senate seat: “I’ve got this thing and it’s [expletive] golden, and .??.??. I’m not going to give it up for [expletive] nothing!” Blago is in federal prison for this style of politics, but it really characterized urban government for over a century: The government has lots of services, and you have votes: Want to trade?



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