Today the President of the United States is visiting my home state and alma mater of the University of the North Carolina. Lucky me, I am in Chapel Hill to watch the frenzy.
At 1 pm, he gave remarks about… well, basketball… and eventually student loans.
He discussed the importance of pursuing a college degree and rebuilding the economy.
The first 75 percent of his remarks contained no specific policy recommendations, but focused on "keeping the promise of the American dream." Of course we can all agree that young Americans look forward to raising families of their own, owning their own homes, and giving a better life to their children.
Then he honed in on student debt. Again, no one can deny that the problem is real. And bad. Student debt has outpaced credit card debt (hard to believe!), and education costs have increased even faster than health care costs.
A couple comments were obvious digs at Gov. Romney, the presumptive GOP candidate for President. "I didn't just read about this," Obama said as he described his struggle paying off his student loans. "I didn't just get some talking points about this." Ha.
He took a moment to brag about the federal takeover of the student loans industry (under his watch). It's true that before the health reform law (which included the student loan takeover), the federal government backed loans that were administered through private banks. Now student loans are under the direct control of the federal government, so that Obama and his cronies can make the rules (including directing more aid toward some schools – not others – and giving better lending terms to people in "helping professions," not necessarily professions demanded by the market).
President Obama called on Congress to increase student grants, double work-study jobs, and to keep the interest rate for student loans low. He pointed out that middle class families are benefitting by the billions from these provisions. That may be true. But the President carefully omitted the fact that middle class families are also suffering from high inflation (like how about $5 gas?), low (measly!) wage growth, and the uncertain fear of maintaining work in today's lagging jobs market.
Yes, he skimmed over those facts, and instead went on the attack. It's was Class Warfare 101. You better believe it was "the wealthiest Americans" and "fair share" and "our priorities" and "shared responsibility," etc.
"America is not just about a few people doing well." Man, I totally agree. But some people will do exceptionally well while others attain mediocre success. The state poem of North Carolina includes a favorite line of mine that should describe our whole nation: "Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great." It's not the government's role to equalize results. Some people will be great… and rather than demonizing and pulling them down, we should actually imitate their hard work and innovation if we want to achieve similar success.
The President ended his remarks with a lively yell to UNC students: "We've got each other's backs!" That may be true for now, but who will have those students' backs when they cannot find employment upon graduation? Mom and dad – who will reopen their homes to failed launches? Or, to be quite frank, many students will simply pile on more student debt to attend graduate school that they may not feel passionate about (simply to hide out until the job market improves). Students who heard his talk today should consider the long-term. How are President Obama's policies faring in the economy at large? How will continued inflation and our $16 trillion national debt (which he shrugs off) come to haunt us one day?
It's gotta be tough for students to focus on the long-term picture. After all, today's the last day of classes at UNC for the spring semester, and exams are right around the corner. But I think many students will find time tonight to watch President Obama appear on a special taping of the Jimmy Fallon show (taped in Chapel Hill), featuring the Dave Matthews Band. Sounds like a party to me!
Later today, the President will board Air Force One and visit the University of Colorado. Also located in a swing state. Just sayin'.