Conventional wisdom says Democrats are in trouble in 2014. Not only does voter turn-out among traditionally democratic voters wane in midterms, but this year they face a flood of conservative money from the world’s overlords that is going to skewer them on everything from Obamacare to Benghazi to the slow job market. Because of this, and the fact that a large proportion of Dem Senators are up for re-election in 2014, many pundits expect Republicans to take the Senate and gain in the House, rendering Obama a truly lame duck President under constant attack.
As usual, the Dems are responding like chicken-shits. They aren’t sure whether to run on Obamacare, run away from it, or stake out a position somewhere in between, and because Republicans have blocked every reasonable proposal since Obama’s re-election, they don’t have any legislative victories to brag about either. At this point, it seems the plan is to tout the fact that Republicans are blocking immigration reform and hope it’s enough.
Let me tell you what will happen if they do this: they’ll lose. Pointing the finger at Republicans may resonate with the base, but it’s not going to get the souls to the polls that won Obama’s elections in 2008 and 2012. Worse, every time Democrats run away from the good policies they’ve passed, like Obamacare, and good policies they should be for, like the minimum wage (which many blue-dogs oppose only to deny their opponents an issue), it turns off everyone. It comes off as disingenuous and slimy. After all, why pass something you aren’t proud of? Why embrace, as a party, something like raising the minimum wage, which enjoys majority support even among Republican voters, if some of your members are too scared to run on it? That’s why people don’t vote for Democrats in the midterms: they don’t lead. They cower and try to play defense—and that inspires exactly no one.
So this year, Dems, why not try something different? Instead of playing defense and trying to fight in the shit-storm Republicans are going to unleash, rise above it. Tell people your vision for a better nation, and then go for it knowing it’s the right thing to do. Because leaders don’t waste time squabbling with naysayers and detractors—they point to a mountain and say, “I want to go there. Who’s coming with me?”
Here’s one mountain you can point to: a mountain that’ll not only energize the base, but will guarantee that almost everyone between 18 and 40 gets out and votes for Democrats in 2014; a policy that shows the truly deep and stark contrast between progressive values and Republican loyalty to the establishment in Washington.
Propose a cap on all student loans—past, present, or future—of .5% above the rate of inflation (adjusted yearly). Banks and lending institutions could opt out of granting new loans, but would have to honor the lower interest rate on all existing loans or sell them to the government at their current balance. To make up the difference in loan availability, the U.S. government would expand the student loans it offers to all eligible students, at that same +.5% rate. Finally, if a student defaults on their debt, the IRS collects it from their federal taxes.
So to review: 1) all students—past, present, or future—pay a super low interest rate on their loans, 2) private institutions aren’t forced into the student loan market, and 3) the government is guaranteed to get it’s money, whether with regular payments, or by keeping additional income taxes from those that default. Oh, and 4) this won’t cost hardly anything in the long run, because a .5% rate still earns over the rate of inflation, and defaults can be dealt with by withholding taxes or services.
To begin with, this is good policy: Americans currently owe over $1 trillion in collective student debt, which alone is a HUGE drag on economic growth. Coupled with high interest rates (I pay 6% and 8% on my two loans, which is pretty typical), it’s disastrous. Enabling students to pay back the money they owe without the principal ballooning because of high interest rates would allow people to spend money on things like dishwashers, cars, furniture, houses, vacations, etc., or simply to get out from under their loans. Sooner or later, decreasing student loan interest rates would increase demand—a very good thing for the economy.
Furthermore, college is so expensive now that it’s become almost prohibitive—that is to say, at current rates of tuition, it doesn’t make sense for people to go at all; frankly, they’re better off working and not taking on the debt. Now, lowering student loan interest rates doesn’t solve the problem of high tuition, but it at least gives college students a break until that’s tackled. They can go to school knowing that yes, they may end up paying high tuition and taking on some debt, but at least it won’t be a burden for the rest of their lives.
Simply put, it’s a policy that would help a HUGE swath of Americans, but especially young voters between the ages of 18 and 40 who tend to vote Democratic. I mean, think about it: no one—not a single soul who’s taken, or will take on student debt—would be opposed to such a policy. And my guess is that a huge number of people, who probably won’t vote given the current donkey platform of wussery, will register and vote for Democrats if they put forward such a policy.
Also, because this would help ordinary people while not hurting anyone—save the big banks and lending institutions—and is being proposed by Democrats, we know with almost sheer certainty that Republicans will oppose it. “It’ll increase the debt,” they’ll say, and, “it doesn’t teach personal responsibility.” Just think about that for a moment: Republicans will be forced (by stupidity, crotchetiness, and sheer assholery) to oppose a policy that’s bound to be incredibly popular with most Americans. And their reasons for opposing such a policy would not only be easy to attack, but also make very clear to EVERYONE in the electorate who they stand with: the rich, the banks, the special interests; as well as who they stand against: ordinary young people trying to get an education and better themselves.
It’s the ultimate wedge policy. With it, Democrats energize the voters most likely to stay home during midterms to get out and vote. Win. Moreover, the policy itself resonates with the average American, who feels that Washington doesn’t care about them and only listens to the special interests, the rich, and the banks. Win. Also, by advocating a cap on the rate of all student loans, Democrats separate themselves from this stereotype, while forcing Republicans not only to embrace it, but to alienate an entire generation in so doing. Win. Finally, this is good policy that will really help a lot of people who’re struggling—that’s good in and of itself, but it will also endear those it helps to the Democratic Party. Win.
So don’t wait Democrats! Embrace this policy—put a cap on student loan rates. Make it applicable to existing loans as well as new ones. Then let Obama go out there and trumpet it, and explain why it’s good for America—especially for young people. That’ll guarantee Republicans opposition, and then all you have to do is push, relentlessly, for this policy, along with a federal minimum wage that is tied to inflation, a greater investment in our infrastructure, and immigration reform. Four policies that are not only good for America, but also great politics. Do it! Do it! Do it! You’ll win!
Or don’t. But if you don’t, don’t expect to win either. Because leaders don’t cower. They lead.