President Joe Biden’s new plan to “cancel” up to $10,000 in student loan debt for those making less than $125,000 annually is at once a dereliction of constitutional duty, a crass political gambit in the lead-up to a contested midterm election and a morally perverse value judgment that lavishes The Regime’s insular, well-heeled voting base at the expense of the median middle-class American. It is, to borrow a term in vogue in Democratic Party circles these days, a truly “deplorable” act.
Interestingly, however, it is also an act that comes with some key lessons for Republicans. If there is to be any silver lining from this grotesque and imperious act, Republicans must learn those lessons — and act upon them.
The first lesson to learn is that the Democratic Party, once the presumptive partisan home of the working-class and the downtrodden, has never been more confident about who it is that now comprises its core voting base: affluent, predominantly white, and predominantly urban or suburban college-educated elites. There is simply no other way to explain this particular policy. The wealthiest quintiles of the American income bracket bear the majority of outstanding student loan debt. Student loans, by their very nature, are only relevant for those who are privileged enough to attend the four-year elite Rumspringa that is the modern American university.
The majority of Americans who do not attend a traditional four-year degree-granting university, by contrast, tend to prioritize apprenticeships, technical training and other tangible steps at career advancement that are sufficiently removed from the substantive claptrap that now pedagogically dominates, and the intellectual Robespierres who now numerically dominate, our decadent institutions of higher education. These are disproportionately the sort of practical, family-centric, salt-of-the-earth Americans who may be behind on their mortgage, auto loan or small business loan, but are not profligate enough to sign up for hundreds of thousands of dollars in federally subsidized student loans, only to then major in “subjects” like gender studies.
To speak of “canceling” debt is economically, moreover, nonsensical; that cost will merely be transferred to the less profligate, and to those who made more economically sensible decisions. Those who went to a less prestigious university because they got a larger scholarship there will also bear this cost; they did the reasonable thing but will now be penalized for their prudence and thrift. As for the middle-class plumbers and electricians who forewent family vacations to more easily pay back their small business loans — well, they’re now on the hook to help bail out Yale Law and Harvard Law grads.
The Democratic Party, in “reverse Robin Hood” fashion, has fallen from the onetime pro-labor union, pro-welfare party of FDR and LBJ to the party of rich white kids and the miscreant denizens of America’s higher education cartel. Even worse, that cartel will now be perversely incentivized, as a result of this egregious moral hazard, to continue to spike already exorbitant tuition costs.
Democrats, going back at least as far as the Obama presidency and continuing through this week’s presidential edict, have made a deliberate choice to cater to the needs of wealthy, college-educated societal elites. Democrats have made their political bed; they must now lie in it.
The onus now falls squarely upon Republicans to do the same, albeit in reverse. That is, Republicans must emphatically embrace their own core voting base: blue-collar, middle-class and working-class Americans without a college degree. Far too often, Republican leaders have attempted to run away from their base. Indeed, the worst-kept secret in American politics, exposed for all the world to see during the contentious 2016 GOP presidential primaries, is that the Republican establishment actually despises its own voter base.
But if the Democrats are this committed to mollycoddling the privileged and the well-off, then Republicans have a golden political opportunity to make a sustained play for “normal” America. That political realignment has already commenced; Republicans must now simply embrace it and act accordingly in their crafting of conservative-populist policies. If that requires a more assertive wielding of political power in the service of good political order, so be it.
The second, and closely related, lesson for Republicans is — as if we needed another reminder — that “value neutrality” in all things governance is a lie. It will never be achieved, even if it were worth pursuing as an end unto itself in the first place. (It isn’t.) In effectuating this student loan “cancellation” boondoggle, the Biden administration has made a very deliberate value judgment to prioritize its core voter base (white college graduates) and a core constituency (higher education bureaucrats) at the expense of those voters and constituencies that Democrats hate (the “deplorables” to which Hillary Clinton infamously once referred).
The Biden administration, in other words, decided to reward friends and punish enemies within the (arguable) confines of the rule of law. Would that Republicans might do the same, the next time they wield power. As the often-astute Pedro L. Gonzalez put it on Twitter:
“Republican politicians are outraged that Democrats used power to reward the people who vote for them while also punishing the GOP’s Middle American base by forcing them to foot the bill. Republican *voters* should be outraged the GOP won’t play the same ruthless game.”
Biden’s new student loan policy is a travesty of justice. With any luck, if the right plaintiff can find Article III “standing,” the policy will be sued into oblivion as a blatant violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers framework. But perhaps, as a silver lining, Republicans might, (SET ITAL) might (END ITAL) finally learn a necessary lesson or two about the art of politics in this ailing, bitterly divided republic.
Josh Hammer is opinion editor of Newsweek, a research fellow with the Edmund Burke Foundation, counsel and policy advisor for the Internet Accountability Project, a syndicated columnist through Creators and a contributing editor for Anchoring Truths. A frequent pundit and essayist on political, legal and cultural issues, Josh is a constitutional attorney by training and the co-host of two podcasts: Newsweek's "The Debate" and the Edmund Burke Foundation's "NatCon Squad."
An outspoken conservative, Josh opines on conservative intellectual trends, contemporary domestic and foreign policy debates, constitutional and legal issues, and the intersection of law, politics and culture. He has been published by many leading outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, Newsweek, National Affairs, American Affairs, The National Interest, National Review, City Journal, First Things, Public Discourse, Law & Liberty, Tablet Magazine, Deseret Magazine, The Spectator, The American Conservative, The American Mind, American Greatness, American Compass, Anchoring Truths, Townhall, The Epoch Times, The Daily Wire, Fortune, Fox Business, Pairagraph, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Jewish Journal. He has had formal legal scholarship published by the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy and the University of St. Thomas Law Journal.
Josh is a college campus speaker through Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Young America's Foundation, as well as a law school campus speaker through the Federalist Society. Prior to Newsweek and the Daily Wire, where he was an editor, Josh worked at a large law firm and clerked for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Josh has also served as a John Marshall Fellow with the Claremont Institute.
Josh graduated from Duke University, where he majored in economics, and from the University of Chicago Law School. He lives in Miami, but remains an active member of the State Bar of Texas.