Published On: Mon, Oct 31st, 2011

Pandering Comes at a Price

President Obama announced his student loan relief plan at the University of Colorado’s Denver campus last week. The plan, according to the Washington Post, “could benefit up to 1.6 million low-income borrowers and reduce their payments by as much as a couple of hundred dollars a month.”

In theory, lessening the load on students as they struggle to find jobs after graduation is a good idea. In practice, however, it encourages students to forgo private sector jobs and work for the government instead. According to the plan, graduates taking public service jobs would pay a maximum 10% of their income toward loan repayment – that is 10% above the poverty level of about $10,500. So if a student makes $25,000 a year, he or she would pay back approximately $1,450 per annum. Depending on how long they remain in the public service industry, taxpayers would have to make up the difference of the original investment, along with interest. Thus, students are induced to borrow from Uncle Sam only to work for him later – with taxpayers underwriting along the way.

Another sticking point is the fact that the bulk of higher education in America is paid for by parents. Nearly half of all college costs are shouldered by working parents while student loans account for less than fifteen percent. With skyrocketing tuition rates seemingly immune to the vagaries of the market place, will parents get a break, too? Not on your life. Banks want their loans repaid, irregardless of a parent’s fluctuating income.

Reading between the lines then, it seems that President Obama’s proposal is not so much a relief plan as an attempt to pander to young voters who came out in droves for him in 2008. But if he was hoping to curry favor with the Occupy Wall Street crowd, his sales pitch comes a little late. As witnessed in Oakland, California last Tuesday – the OWS protest movement is moving beyond student loans to embrace anarchism and vagrancy.

As noted in Thursday’s New York Times, liberal mayors in cities such as New York and San Francisco are getting fed up with protesters who act like squatters, draining police and sanitation resources away from the rest of the population. The costs are mounting for cities whose fiscal budgets are overdrawn and whose liberal tolerance is overstrained. The protesters themselves increasingly resemble medieval penitents, lashing out at all sorts of social ills – real or imagined – heckling innocent bystanders, demanding to be fed and warning of an impending apocalypse.

Instead of student loan relief, maybe the President should hand out indulgences.

Seriously, there is a price to pay for pandering. It is reminiscent of the Chicago riots of 1968 which forced another liberal mayor to enforce law in the streets. At the time, there was a lot of handwringing in the media over the protester’s demands, but as the chants of “The whole world is watching” rang outside the Democratic National Convention, Mayor Richard Daley sent in his blue-collar police force to crack heads, which they did, sending a shiver down America’s spine. It can be argued that the Chicago riots of 1968 did more to damage the presidential hopes of Humbert Humphrey than either President Johnson’s resignation months earlier or the unpopularity of the Vietnam War.

The rift that ensued between hippies and hardhats damaged the democratic coalition for decades and, in turn, exasperated the never-ending culture war.

This should be a cause of concern as today’s protests take on a disturbingly hostile air.

As Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta said in an interview with the Times, “The attitude I have seen here is not consistent with any civil rights protests I have seen in Atlanta, and certainly not consistent with the most respected forms of civil disobedience.”

That’s because civil disobedience is not the objective. Most college students are taking their midterms right now, not loitering in the streets. The Occupy Wall Street protests, however, are increasingly anarchistic and internationalist in flavor, with more potential violence in the offing. The protesters see bogeymen everywhere and there are unsettling anti-Semitic undertones in the placards they carry. Malcontents are rarely mollified and, as witnessed in Oakland last Tuesday, they look for any excuse to be provoked.

While President Obama’s overture to hardworking college students may be well-intended – if decidedly misleading – it should be noted that the malcontents among them will never be satisfied until the whole system cracks.

Perhaps the Obama administration should consider that unsettling legacy as the Democratic National Convention looms in Charlotte next year.

Convention Fun in Chicago, 1968

About the Author

- Robert Maley has worked in publishing, banking and – as incongruent as it may seem – the theatrical world. After many years of living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he now resides in the more pastoral setting of Virginia. A playwright with an MFA from Columbia University, he has had several plays produced off-off-Broadway. Presently, he is a critic of the Cultural Marxism to which he once allied, especially as it pertains to the arts, faith and academia.

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