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Why Are the Right-Wing Media Obsessed with an Imaginary Woman's Success Story?

Conservative ideology refuses to accept that a strong public sector is essential and has nothing to do with unhealthy dependency.

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Age 31: Julia has a baby. Her coverage has to cover maternal checkups, prenatal care and co-pay-free screenings under the healthcare reform law.

Age 37: Her son, Zach, starts kindergarten at a public school. She could homeschool if she wished, or enroll him in a private school – nobody's forcing her to send him to a public school, but she has the option.

Age 42: Julia starts her own business with a Small Business Administration loan, and then enjoys tax cuts for new startups. The horrors! Remember when conservatives liked people starting new enterprises?

Age 65: Julia enrolls in Medicare, which she paid into over the course of her career.

Age 67: Julia retires and starts getting Social Security checks. 

And that's it. That's a lifetime of “leaning on government intervention, dependency and other people's money.” And it's worth noting that “The Life of Julia” is an upbeat political campaign; Julia never goes through rough patches that would equire her to go on unemployment or receive food stamps, things conservatives commonly believe foster dependency. As such, the reaction reveals a fascinating – and troubling – blindspot that's become a prominent feature of today's right-wing: American conservatives have been so thoroughly conditioned with the simplistic narrative that the public sector enslaves us and saps our will to strive that things like student loans and pre-school programs get caught up in their “culture of dependency” narrative.

That worldview isn't healthy in an advanced economy. The reality is that without a robust public sector, there can be no functional, upwardly mobile private sector. As  I've written before, some public programs provide us with an enormous amount of individual liberty and freedom of choice that we would not otherwise enjoy.

In the United States, for example, it’s not uncommon for people to stay in dead-end jobs or crappy relationships for fear of losing their health coverage. They're stuck. In Canada or France or any other industrialized country, a citizen’s healthcare is his or her own – financed largely through the taxes they pay. People in those countries have the very real freedom to quit that lousy job or dump that asshole without worrying about losing their coverage. In this example, Americans are slaves not to an overarching state, but to the way our private insurance system works.

Or consider the millions of people who want to go to college but can’t afford to pick up the tab for tuition and living expenses. Many, like he fictional Julia, still have the choice to get a higher education through federal education grants and subsidized student loans. That’s a personal choice that the private sector has no incentive to provide to citizens.

There are programs that offer people new job skills. Even if you’re dirt poor, you can still get into a program to help you kick a drug addiction. You can go to the library and read a book or search job listings on the Internet. All of these things give people real choices they wouldn’t otherwise have.

The young researcher working on an NIH-funded science project; the farmer who has the choice to maintain his or her family’s tradition because of agricultural subsidies; or the actor performing in an off-off-Broadway play that couldn’t be produced without a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts—all of them are living examples of people who have the freedom to pursue options that would be closed to them without Big Government “intervention” in the economy.

The right calls the basic functions of government, taxing in order to finance public services, “theft” and argues that we “can't afford” these things. But many of the examples above – good infrastructure, the ability to take risk without facing ruin and having an educated, healthy population -- yield greater economic output, resulting in more tax revenues. They are investments, not “sunk costs.” Just ask Julia.

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