Talk To Us: Democrats, Policy, and Young Voters

Cross posted at Future Majority

In 2004, John Kerry made a huge mistake.  While touring colleges and universities,he delivered long-winded speeches about medicare and social security to audiences of teens and twenty-somethings whose main concerns were rising student debt, shrinking employment opportunities, and their friends, busy fighting an ill-conceived land war in Asia.  As a result, one of the more popular sites during the '04 election was called John Kerry is a douchebag but I'm voting for him anyway.  

And we did vote for him.  We didn't sit it out, we weren't apathetic. Young people gave John Kerry a 10 point margin over Bush - the only age demographic to choose Kerry.  But we weren't happy about it.  He was still a douchebag, and nothing showed that more than his indifference to the issues that we cared about so deeply.  

What I want to know is this - are the Democratic candidates going to repeat that mistake in 2007 and 2008?  Will they take our votes for granted, or will they respect us enough to address our issues and engage our generation in a substantive conversation?  What will they say this time when they hold their "college tours?" What will they say when they meet young voters who are working their first jobs, or starting families, and struggling with a mountain of debt?  Or to those who are priced out of college?  What will they say to those of our generation who continue to fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Right now we have a chance to find out.  

Last week, a scandal was uncovered in the student lending industry.  It was revealed that financial aid officers at a number of universities were sitting on advisory boards and holding stock in one of the corporate lending institutions favored by their universities - a conflict of interest that placed the financial well-being of these university officers at odds with the financial well being of their students.  

On Sunday, the Washington Post and York Times wrote about two more student lending scandals.  WaPo reported that corporate lenders are improperly using their access to a government database of student borrowers, raising some serious concerns about privacy violations, and exploiting their access to entice students into their lending programs.  The New York Times reported that potentially illegal cash enticements from corporate lenders and lax oversight from the Bush Administration have been responsible for a decline in university participation in the government's Direct Loan Program.  

For over a decade now, the U.S. government has run two loan programs - the Direct Loan Program, in which the government lends directly to students, and another program, which subsidizes corporate lending to students.  Universities get to choose in which program to participate, an by offering potentially illegal cash incentives to universities (as well as by cosying up to financial aid officers in other ways) corporate lenders have been undercutting the Direct Loan program for years.  

Unfortunately for students and the American taxpayer, the Direct Loan program is a vastly cheaper and more efficient program:

President Bush's budget reports that in 2006 for every $100 lent by private lenders, the cost to the government of subsidies, defaults and other items was $13.81, while the same amount lent through the direct loan program cost the government $3.85. The battle for dominance in the loan market has escalated as tuitions have soared and students have borrowed more. This is the context for many of the payments to universities and financial aid officials that have come to light as a result of recent investigations into student loan practices.

This is a corrupt industry that is getting rich off of taxpayer money at the expense of young people, many of whom will shoulder a mountain of debt for decades to pay for school - if they are not already priced out.  This is a chance for our candidates to stick up for young people and directly address an issue that many young voters state as one of their top concerns.

So far, the silence among the Democratic candidates on these issues has been deafening.  Of the four major candidates (Hillary, Barack, Edwards, Richardson), only Senator Edwards has made mention of this issue.  Commendably, he called for cutting corporate lenders out of the picture and expanding the Direct Loan program.  But its not enough.  

Senator Edwards' campaign is based on the idea that we can't wait for the next election to start fixing our country.  His OneCorp chapters are dedicated to taking action now on the issues of the day.  Seeing how universities get to choose in which lending program to participate, will Senator Edwards call on the college chapters of One Corps to organize campus action on the issue of student debt and corporate lending?   Will Senator Obama use his popularity among young voters to do more than talk about a generational shift in our politics?  Will he make use of his skills as a community organizer and call on our generation to take action on this issue?  Will student lending and debt be a focus of his new MyPolicy tool?  Will he make a statement about what an Obama administration would do to alleviate the growing financial burden students face in attaining a quality education?  What about Senator Clinton, or Governor Richardson?  What is their position and what action will they take on behalf of the millions of young people whose votes they seek?

In the last three election cycles young voters have come out swinging for the Democrats.  Will our party's candidates repay that support and show us the respect we deserve?  Will they address this - and other important issues - during their campaign?  Will they engage us in a substantive conversation about the issues that affect young voters?  Or like Kerry, will they drop the ball and take our votes for granted?  Let's hope that in 2008 there's no occasion for another website like this.

Tags: 2008 election, Future Majority, higher education, Millennials, policy, Student Debt, youth vote (all tags)

Comments

3 Comments

Re: Don't Drop the Ball: Democrats, Policy, and Yo

And right on cue, JP Morgan, Bank of America, and a couple big private finance groups are buying out Sallie Mae, the holding company for most student loans.

I think the biggest issue going forward is the "pricing out" one. The social effects of stratifying educational institutions will only further increase the gulf of inequality. I don't know how much more of a gap we can reasonably sustain, but I suspect we're about to find out.

Also, I think it's going to take a broader frame or platform to really get traction out of a college-debt-specific message. It's easy to come off as pandering if you can't make it a part of the bigger picture. I think a broader message about debt in general is important, as well as pounding on the malignancy of corporate interests in this case.

by Josh Koenig 2007-04-16 08:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Don't Drop the Ball: Democrats, Policy, and Yo

Also, I think it's going to take a broader frame or platform to really get traction out of a college-debt-specific message. It's easy to come off as pandering if you can't make it a part of the bigger picture. I think a broader message about debt in general is important, as well as pounding on the malignancy of corporate interests in this case.

For sure.  Edwards strikes me as the candidate whose campaign is probably most suited to making that broader statement, probably why he was able to seize on it so quickly - it already fit his themes.

I'm sure lots of Edwards and Obama supporters will say that its early, the student outreach arms of these campaigns are just getting their sea legs, yada yada yada.  But I find it really disturbing that there aren't even press releases or statements on this issue from 2 of the top 3 candidates - and the two "front runners" at that.  These stories have gotten front page treatment in some of the largest newspapers in the country.  To not even acknowledge the issue is shocking and shockingly obtuse on the part of the campaigns even from a raw political standpoint.  This could be red meat for growing a youth operation.  

Also, pricing out is a big issue, and only getting bigger.  It's yet another reason to boost participation in the Direct Loan Program - all that saved tax money can get diverted somewhere else, like to Pell Grants that specifically help low income applicants.

by Mike Connery 2007-04-16 08:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Don't Drop the Ball: Democrats, Policy, and Yo

It's easy to come off as pandering if you can't make it a part of the bigger picture.

This is why I suggested that Edwards and Obama step up and actively organize their student supporters around this issue.  Actual organizing goes way farther than just rhetoric, and it would require them to provide specific alternatives for students to organize around, and which a Democratic administration could pursue legislatively in 2009 if necessary.

by Mike Connery 2007-04-16 08:40AM | 0 recs

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