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Obama Isn’t Solving the Student Debt Crisis, Stein charges

In the past week President Obama has been touring college campuses attempting to rally wavering students behind his reelection campaign.  Using Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” technique, his speeches begin with a statement of his deep concern over the college debt crisis that is crushing an entire generation.  Then he proclaims that some Republicans are threatening to let the rate of interest on student loans double.  The President won’t stand for that.  He vows that the interest rate must remain the same.  He’ll protect students from the Republicans!  Cue the cheers and pass the campaign sign-up forms!

The President’s attempt to be the defender of students against the evil Republicans is considerably undermined by news that his Republican opponent Mitt Romney also supports keeping the interest rates constant.  So there’s scarcely a dime’s worth of difference between Obama and Romney on the interest rate question.

At this point a disturbing truth has to be faced:  President Obama does not propose to do anything that will actually end the student debt crisis. He’s willing to adjust the terms of repayment – but he isn’t willing to halt the imposition of debt.  His passionate defense of the 3.4% interest rate is, after all, just a declaration that he stands for maintaining the parameters of the system that has caused the crisis to worsen.  In fact, under Obama’s policies,  total student debt is guaranteed to grow and more students than ever will find themselves enslaved by debt.    Obama proposes to pursue students for 20 years after they graduate.  And he intends to use a discriminatory bankruptcy law that keeps them in the federal crosshairs even if they declare bankruptcy.  Those are not the policies of a president who is a friend of students.

To understand what a President could do if he made the student debt problem a priority, one has to turn to the Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein.  Stein says that the monstrous student debt burden arose because legislators decided to force students to cough up more money so that legislators could continue to give tax giveaways to the wealthy.  So she proposes that the government make amends by taking over the existing student debt, thus ending the crisis immediately.  She notes that this is a smaller financial outlay than Bush and Obama made in bailing out the big Wall Street banks, and it can be paid for by scaling back the Pentagon budget and canceling some of the tax giveaways to the rich.

According to Stein “A college degree is as essential in today’s world as a high school education was in the last century.  The previous generation made a commitment to giving every student a high school education without driving them into debt or excluding poorer students.  Now it’s time for this generation to provide tuition-free higher education.  It’s an investment in our economy that will pay back far more than it costs.”

Noting  that other countries around the world give students educational loans at no interest, Stein commented  “The President has no trouble giving the big Wall Street banks loans at near zero interest while saying that we can’t afford to let students pay less than 3.4%.  I believe that its time this nation started valuing its students more than the Wall Street money manipulators.”

While he is a skilled orator, Obama’s attempt to woo the student vote just may sink under its own contradictions.  It’s hard to get students excited when you’re basically proposing to maintain the system that is pushing them deeper into debt.  Stein’s message seems to be faring better, even though major media outlets are still imposing a near total blackout on her campaign.  Stein is getting enthusiastic receptions whenever she visits a campus, with new Green Party student groups forming in her wake.  In a carefully-organized mock student election held earlier this year, Stein pulled 27% of the student vote, which portends a three-way race among younger voters as she gets her message out.   Students want to vote for change, and this year, Barack Obama looks increasingly like more of the same.

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John Andrews is a member of the Green Party who lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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