By John Sherza
The following feature piece appeared in the September 2019 edition of The Campus.
With a minimum of twenty-three candidates running for the Democratic nomination, one would expect to witness a variety of different approaches to address an issue. Variety may be the spice of life, but the amount of choices we have at the moment can be overwhelming. Most Americans lack the time or energy to carefully examine each candidate’s position on the topics at hand. This is especially true for college students who are busy trying to juggle their many responsibilities. It is concerning because the future President could fundamentally change the course of their life. Specifically, when it comes to the issue of student debt in this country.
For the sake of keeping this article from getting as long as this election’s primary ballot, candidates will be separated into three categories: Centrists, Moderates, and Liberals. Their categorization is determined by their previous legislative history, public statements, and other policy proposals. Despite being in the same category, each candidate maintains unique policies that all have subtle differences. These categories define the candidates’ general political and economic philosophy that governs their policy proposals.
The Centrists have established their careers on the foundation of bipartisanship. All of these candidates represent closely contested states, that often swing from Republican to Democrat and vice-versa. One strategy used to survive these battleground states is distancing yourself from what is traditionally expected to be the position of your party. These candidates strategically embrace certain positions held by the opposing party, focus heavily on the demographics, and observe the trends in their districts. Candidates under this category include Joe Biden, Steve Bullock, Michael Bennet, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, and Tim Ryan. All five have taken issue with the Liberals’ plans to completely eliminate tuition costs. However, it’s clear that all of these candidates are feeling the pressure from the promises made by the Liberal front runners.
Most of these candidates have publicly supported eliminating tuition costs for two-year community colleges and trade schools. The only exceptions are Michael Bennet, who ironically was a superintendent in Denver, and Steve Bullock. Despite facing competition from 19 other candidates, Bennet has not introduced any clear plan to address the student loan crisis. Bullock wrote an opinion piece for CNN, telling the story of his own student loans while lambasting Liberal candidates for making what he considers unrealistic promises. No Centrist candidate supports student loan forgiveness. They all support federal efforts to fund state and community colleges, capping federal loan rates to lower percentages, and increasing Pell Grant funding. These candidates reject idealism in the interests of pragmatism. Many of these candidates invoke classic American ideals of earning your way to a better life. They prioritize the immediate interests of the working class, midwestern people they represent. Their policy proposals protect a laissez-faire system of capitalism, that ensures universities and loan agencies’ ability to generate revenue from college students.
The Moderates are facing an uphill battle this election season. Reconciling with Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, Moderates aim to make the case that their policy proposals will withstand President Trump’s attacks in 2020. The field of Moderates is the largest group of the three categories. Moderates are typically the candidates that follow the established beliefs and positions of the party and rarely step out of line. The key strategy of a Moderate is to centralize their image into a key issue area. They use a particular issue as the foundation for their election campaigns. The list of Moderates includes Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Bill de Blasio, Cory Booker, Seth Moulton, Amy Klobuchar, Kristen Gillibrand, Julian Castro, Jay Inslee, Beto O’Rourke, Tulsi Gabbard, and Wayne Massam.
These candidates come from a wide variety of backgrounds all across the country. Like the Centrists, all of the Moderates support making community college and trade schools tuition-free. Moderates do not support the complete student debt forgiveness, nor do they support completely tuition-free colleges. They argue that capping federal loan interest rates and expanding federal aid will be enough to solve the student debt crisis. A common talking point among Moderates is the burden middle-class taxpayers face in the prospect of tuition-free college. They claim that the people benefitting the most from tuition-free college are students from wealthy, coastal families. It’s unfair to tell poor, working-class mid-westerners that their tax money must go to coastal elites. Like Centrists, Moderates believe in the importance of self-sufficiency. They do not agree that the government needs to provide. However, unlike Centrists, Moderates frame their argument against tuition-free college to make it seem the status of the working class is their highest concern. Many of these candidates sympathize with the intentions of tuition-free universities but insist that the realities of economics make those plans unrealistic.
The Liberals have been commanding the energy this election season. Many of their proposals have been given extensive media coverage. In many ways, Liberals are the antithesis of the 2016 Election. Anger and frustration have been boiling ever since President Trump was elected into office. Since the Republican Party is quickly moving further right of the political spectrum, Democrats must counter it by moving further left. These candidates present their ideas as common-sense reform that have not been implemented due to special interests. They point to polling data that supposedly shows popular support for their ideas and other countries that have programs similar to ones they propose and highlight the success of those programs as examples. At a quick glance, the Liberals appear to share the opposite side of the same coin with President Trump. Both President Trump and the Democratic Liberals promise ambitious, but constitutionally dubious policy proposals. There are many students passionately supporting Liberal candidates because if their policies were enacted, it could transform their lives.
Hearing others abandon their academic careers because of high costs is something painfully common in this country. The Liberal candidates include Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang, and Marianne Williamson. All of these candidates share the belief that tuition for four-year degrees should be abolished. They believe it is immoral to ask young people still trying to figure out their lives, to bear the burden of thousands of dollars of debt. Liberals also want the federal government to pay off the existing debt college graduates are currently paying themselves. To pay for these proposals, Liberals want to implement equally ambitious taxes on the wealthy and middle-class. They dismiss criticisms of higher taxes on the middle class by claiming the benefits of their proposals will offset the costs. Liberals emphasize the importance of human capital in all of their policies. They are willing to invest massive amounts of money to improve the well-being and quality of life, at the cost of anyone earning an above-average income.
Twenty candidates from all corners of our country are battling for our attention, support, and a chance to face President Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election. Despite the unflattering comparisons to Andrew Johnson or Richard Nixon, President Trump appears to be in a decent position to reclaim the White House for another term. Presidents rarely lose re-election campaigns when the economy is doing well. Facing this reality, Democratic candidates need new strategies to challenge President Trump. However, all Democratic candidates agree on President Trump’s unimpressive record on addressing the needs of the working class. One of his many Achilles Heels is his lack of action in addressing the student loan crisis. The number of college student bearing crushing debt is reaching record highs. Regardless of what group of democrats ultimately secures the nomination, the party must give its complete support to the nominee and the actions they want to take.