In 2008 President Obama won the youth vote in every conceivable way possible. Turnout was massive and handed the president the largest popular vote victory for Democrats in over a decade. Democrats down-balot were swept into office everywhere. Now fast-forward to today and the masses of youth are not fawning over nor thinking about voting for Obama. Instead they are dealing with the realities of a struggling economy, school and life in general. Oh how things have changed since November 2008 and the early exciting days of 2009.
The Obama campaign has noticed. Over the last several months the campaign has been heavily targeting the youth vote and former volunteers through outreach, social media and phone banks. These efforts have at best fallen flat and at worst failed. But it seems the White House and not the campaign has settled on the best idea to win back these voters. Buy their votes. This would be done through a plan sponsored by Representative Hansen Clark (D-MI) that calls for all student loan debt to be forgiven. In fact, Moveon.org put a petition of support on its website and saw over 630,000 signatures of those under 30 sign it. Talk about getting mine.
Student loans are set to eclipse the $1 trillion mark, coming close to exceeding the nation’s total credit card debt. And like many other industries the student loan industry has evolved from privately run, to privately run to government subsidized to finally totally government-run. It would be nice if student loans could really be forgiven with an act of Congress. But they cannot. Student loan costs are set by government and the whole host of social factors this creates. Moreover, government loans do not even try to take into account the ability of a student to repay. For example, a businesses administration major (a promising career choice with revenue potential) would get the same preference for student loans as a gender studies major. But even so, the government would never completely write this debt completely off the balance-sheets. It is close to $1 trillion and a useful political football when the times warrant its use.
But even worse is the student loan industry has been fueled by government subsidies. So that means when the bubble created by subsidies collapses, and inevitably it will, student loans will be unattainable for many people who need them. It gets worse, even the best efforts of the government to control the rising costs of student loans would be minimized due to inflation and the higher demands for the service. Perhaps this is why the student loan default rate is already approaching 10%.
What makes a plan to buy the youth vote like this so great is it requires no additional spending or funding. Instead, it simply calls for existing debt for a segment of the public to be eliminated (like it really would). In fact, one can even see capitalist arguments made for this plan on the merit it keeps more money in the pockets of youth to spend (on useless crap that is). Nevermind this is a bailout by any definition of the word and the moral hazard it would create would reverberate through our political system for decades to come.
Kudos have to be given for the person who came up with this plan. It was not Hansen for he is simply carrying the bill in Congress. If legislators oppose it they can be demonized by the opposition for doing so. And if legislators support it (knowing it is certain to fail) they can make their case to young voters they tried to help them out. I can see the web ads now targeting the youth vote from the White House, “We tried to forgive your student loans and give you a head-start in life,” dramatic pause, picture of GWB, “The Republicans did not.”
Even if this plan runs straight into a struggling economy and a disengaged youth electorate it is sure to win the president and Democrats a few votes. In an election where over 16 million new voters could vote a fraction of these votes could easily swing the election. Perhaps it will even recapture some of the enthusiasm of 2008. The White House and Democrats can only hope. Perhaps someday the forces of the market and sane fiscal policy can manipulate voters as much as plans like this. Those working to pay taxes and support what is left of the economy scant have the time to think up plans like this let alone implement them. Someday one hopes perhaps they can.