President Obama desperately needs a win right now. With a wheezing economy in dire need of some defibrillator action, a growing populist revolution on his hands, and a Congress who would likely block his request for a tissue if he should sneeze, the man who promised hope and change has found himself in quite a pickle.
Yet, Obama’s a smart dude. So, he’s coming out fighting, as evidenced in part by his somewhat feisty speech yesterday at the Auraria Campus in Denver, which is home to three higher education institutions.
“We can’t wait for Congress to do its job. So where they won’t act, I will.” a fired-up Mr. Obama stated. “And I’ve told my administration we’re going to look every single day to figure out what we can do without Congress. What can we do without them? Steps that can save you money, and make government more efficient and responsive, and help heal this economy.”
Ripping a page from – dare I say it? – John McCain’s “maverick” playbook, Mr. Obama has pulled no punches over his recent three-state tour: portraying Congress as a bunch of windbags who do nothing, and responding to their inaction with a series of executive actions which, crudely speaking, gives Speaker Boehner and his GOP cronies a big, fat middle finger.
Obama did what Obama does best: he catered to the crowd of mostly students and educators, speaking directly to their identified pain points. Unveiling one of the aforementioned executive actions – his student loan reform package – the president’s speech was full of poignant humor and “common man” banter, clearly designed to let everyone there know that he was one of us, man, and we could count on him to have our backs. He attempted to drive that point home by referencing the $120,000 of student loan debt accrued by him and the first lady.
“Look, obviously we were lucky to have gotten a great education and we were able to land good jobs with a steady income. But it still took us almost 10 years to finally pay off all our student debt,” Mr. Obama explained. “So the idea is, how do we make college more affordable, and how do we make sure you are burdened with less debt?
“We want you in school. But we shouldn’t saddle you with debt when you’re starting off.”
The gloves are off
This is the President Obama we haven’t seen for a while – the one with guts and a fighting spirit, not afraid to take off the gloves for a good fight. See, while no one could (successfully) argue that Mr. Obama didn’t inherit a colossal mess from his Oval Office predecessor, the Obama administration has been marked with leadership from behind and a lack of the instant, direct and shocking action many were expecting after the strength of his 2008 campaign. Thus, the several brilliant successes he’s had have been overshadowed by the pervading issues du jour, leaving his core support network disenfranchised and lost, and his approval ratings downright dismal. Mr. Obama knows this, and played up the “everyman” angle in an attempt to mobilize the crowd from captive audience into student grassroot activists.
“I am going to keep doing everything in my power to make a difference for the American people. But, Denver, I need your help … I need you communicating to Congress. I need you to get the word out,” he explained. “Tell them, ‘do your job.’ Tell them, ‘the President has ideas that in the past have been supported by Democrats and Republicans — there’s no reason not to support them just to play politics.’
“It’s time to put country ahead of party. It’s time to put the next generation ahead of the next election. It’s time for all of us in Washington to do our job. It’s time for them to do their job. Too many people out there are hurting. Too many people are out there hurting for us to sit around and doing nothing.”
Marketing 101: Branding
By painting himself once again as someone in touch with the needs of the common people, the president now re-positions himself directly with those who formed his voter base – the younger generation of Americans who energized and got him elected. In 2008, many of them were college students. Now, they are the young generation with bleak post-graduation future, who have seen their parents laid off and struggling to survive, and who may likely be unable to find work themselves.
One could argue – and many pundits have since yesterday’s speech – that this trip was mere political posturing, a taxpayer-funded trip to do little more than campaign with new promises. And, the impact these student loan reforms will actually have on the bottom line of struggling Americans is debatable. (Check out this article in The Atlantic, which analyzes the plan and comes to the conclusion the action won’t have much effect.)
To all of that I say, so what? Dammit, something – anything – needs to happen. Stagnation is unacceptable, and Congress has clearly demonstrated they need a lesson on how to play nice in the sandbox.
An informal non-scientific poll I took last night through social media channels resulted in a whopping 78% of respondees stating they have copious amounts of student loan debt. Several said it’s been worth it, however many others claimed if they knew how bad things would be at the time they borrowed, they would have perhaps chosen another route. The point is this: if a vast majority of our young workforce is saddled with debt and/or can’t find jobs in their chosen career, then something needs to happen. See, unlike the federal government, we the people can’t spend what we don’t have. And we don’t have TARP programs and other bail-outs to make it easier.
In a nutshell, the president’s student loan proposal does the following:
- Allows consolidation of guaranteed and direct, at a lower interest rate. Bonus: write one check a month rather than several.
- By next year, enacts a cap for student loan payments to not be more than 10% of a borrower’s income. (This provision originally was to go into effect in 2014)
- Forgives all remaining debt after 20 years of payments (currently 25 years) for most; after 10 years for teachers, nurses, members of the armed forces and other public service workers.
So, what are your thoughts on student loan debt? How has it affected you? And what do you think about the president’s plan?
Laura Keeney admits she originally became a professional music writer because she was too
cheap broke in college to pay for concert tickets. She’s obsessed with The Clash, loves classic bicycles, blogs for 303, and writes for the magazine’s print edition. She’s also ridiculously addicted to news and politics. Follow her on Twitter at @onnabugeisha.