Forget Julia, It's The Life of Ahmed That Demands Attention

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It's easy to imagine a hypothetical Muslim who doesn't fare well under either an Obama or a Romney presidency.

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A screen shot from President Obama's web ad "The Life of Julia." / barackobama.com

Everyone has his or her own aesthetic tastes, but after perusing President Obama's Web graphic "The Life of Julia," an interactive argument about how the Obama Administration's policies would affect a hypothetical woman over the course of her life, I think Yuval Levin's assessment is most apt: "It's like Portlandia earnestly offered up as a drama." Like the characters in that show, Julia is an upper middle-class white person who transitions from a childhood playing with pricey educational toys to a four year college to a creative class profession and ultimately her own Web business. (She also dyes her hair from blue to red at age 25. Did she flirt with conservatism after she got her first paycheck and saw how much was withheld?)

Whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is president in 2013, Julia is going to do just fine in America. So while the ad will arguably be effective -- Noah Kristula Green makes a plausible case -- perhaps we ought to instead concern ourselves with how a less advantaged person might fare.

Meet Ahmed. At age three, as he begins Head Start in New York City, his father, an illegal immigrant from Yemen, is deported by President Obama. Under Mitt Romney, he'd fare the same.

At age 17, Ahmed is spied on by a federally trained and funded NYPD task force simply because he is Muslim, and is routinely stopped and frisked in his own neighborhood. Under Mitt Romney he'd fare the same.

At 18, Ahmed begins college, but is forced to take remedial English because two of his high school English teachers had been under-performing for many years but weren't replaced due to the generous job protections they're afforded as unionized public school teachers. Eventually he drops out, and around the same time figures out that unbeknownst to him he was brought to America at age two. Under Mitt Romney's preferred policy he'd be summarily deported.  

At age 22, Ahmed's father is collateral damage in a drone strike that President Obama empowered the CIA to carry out without knowing the names of the people targeted. Though Ahmed hasn't seen him since childhood, he is despondent. He turns to his best friend, Jamal, to console him, until the latter youth is arrested and jailed for possessing a quarter ounce of marijuana.

Pretty much the same thing would happen under Mitt Romney.

At age 23, Ahmed attempts to travel to Yemen to visit his father's grave and reconnect with his uncle, who he hasn't seen since childhood. Upon returning to the United States his passport is detected as a forgery. Due to a series of misunderstandings Ahmed finds himself placed in indefinite detention rather than regular immigration detention, and is wrongly accused of having ties to terrorism. He gets lucky, spending only 11 months behind bars until being released with an order to reappear to be deported. Pretty much the same thing would happen under Romney, though the chances of him being waterboarded while in custody would increase.

At age 25, Ahmed gets exceptionally lucky: he is part of a class action lawsuit launched by the ACLU that gets him $100,000 for being wrongfully imprisoned, and against all odds his asylum claim comes through. His attorney at the ACLU gets him a job translating at a public interest law firm. His biggest worry is the fact that like many Americans his emails and telephone calls are routinely subject to warrantless spying by the NSA. Life is looking up, as it would be under Romney.

At age 27, Ahmed has surgery. The preexisting condition provision in Obamacare helps him to be able to secure insurance after that, despite changing jobs with a period of unemployment in between. But he'd actually be fine under Romney too, because after his ordeal in New York he's moved to Massachusetts.

At age 31, Ahmed has a son. Under Obama, he and his girlfriend qualify for more generous prenatal care. Under Romney, Ahmed marries the woman to take advantage of a traditional-family friendly tax credit passed under the Republicans. It feels coercive, but he thinks it has a 50/50 chance of being for the best.

At age 37, Ahmed's son is set to start school. Ahmed wants to send him to a private institution that includes aspects of Islamic faith in its curriculum, something he can't afford under Obama, but that he manages to make work under the voucher scheme Mitt Romney passed in his second term over the objection of some social conservatives, who wanted to exempt Islamic schools from the bill.

At age 42, he tries to start a small business butchering halal meat. Under President Obama, he is unable to do so: OSHA rules have been written in a way that make butchering halal meat impossible. Under Romney, he isn't able to do it because less rigorously enforced non-discrimination rules leave him vulnerable to a series of landlords who refuse to rent to an Islamic business. (There's been another terrorist attack.) 

At age 65, Ahmed finds Social Security and Medicare vastly diminished because neither Obama nor Romney addressed America's unsustainable deficits, the former expanding social welfare spending and subsidies to industry, the latter spending more on the military and tax cuts for the rich.

Ahmed voted in his last presidential election at age 67, the year before he died. Thinking of his dead father, the racial profiling faced by his son, the awful feeling of his communications being spied upon, his difficulty starting a small business, and his experience being swept up in the seemingly endless war on terror, he votes libertarian. His friend Julia, an older white woman he met at the community garden, can't understand being a member of a minority group and not voting for the Democrat.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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