CommunityThe Bullpen

Romney on Higher Education: Shop Around

It’s Super Tuesday, where we will perhaps see the final coronation of Mitt Romney as the nominee of the Republican Party for President. A win for Romney in states like Ohio and Tennessee should put the race out of reach, even if it doesn’t immediately lead to the other candidates dropping out.

And I would argue that the rise of Romney coincides directly with his turn to a very negative, even cruel side of his personality, and how it’s reflected in his public policy choices. Romney hoped to float above the GOP primary, winning on the strength of outside negative ads, superior fundraising and better organization. That didn’t totally work out. So he had to alter his economic policy, to tilt it further to the right, to embrace more conservative ideas. He had to become the most conservative candidate on immigration policy. And he had to do things like he did in Youngstown, Ohio yesterday, a perfect example of the conservative “you’re on your own” economic profile:

The high school senior who stood up at Mitt Romney’s town hall meeting here today was worried about how he and his family would pay for college, and wanted to hear what the candidate would do about rising college costs if elected. He didn’t realize that Mr. Romney was about to use him to demonstrate his fiscal conservatism to the crowd.

The answer: nothing.

Mr. Romney was perfectly polite to the student. He didn’t talk about the dangers of liberal indoctrination on college campuses, as Rick Santorum might have. But his warning was clear: shop around and get a good price, because you’re on your own.

“It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that,” he said, to sustained applause from the crowd at a high-tech metals assembly factory here. “Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And hopefully you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”

In this answer, Romney basically denies the existence of federal student loan programs, Pell grants, work-study programs, or the soaring cost of higher education, a real crisis for the country, something that the President has actually noted and tried to tackle, through a somewhat vague idea of linking government aid to colleges and universities to slowing their growth in prices. He also denies the efficacy of a college education as an investment in the future, and how money spent by the federal government – again, in existing programs – pays off down the road. Nope, the message was, “tough noogies, shop around, good luck, go away.”

This may not appeal to a college student, but it appeals to a large sector of the GOP base that assumes that any government policy represents a handout to an undeserving alien other. That’s the lizard brain appeal of Romney’s comments, which received an ovation. Romney may not have wanted to tread on this ground, but the nature of the Republican primaries demanded it. And that has led to the tarnishing of the brand.

Previous post

As Talks Resume With Iran, Obama's "No Containment" Policy Could Have Terrible Implications

Next post

Super Tuesday Primary Primer

David Dayen

David Dayen