Three developments initiated by conservatives and the GOP would suggest they are waging war against a successor generation — those between the ages of 18 and 34: a sustained assault against public education, the war against women’s health, contraception and reproductive rights, the mismanagement of the American economy during the G.W. Bush era creating a $1.3 trillion deficit, and an economic (joblessness) and financial (Wall Street collapse) disaster unparalleled since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The impact of policies flowing from each development combine to cast a pall over the current and future prospects for an entire generation and would create a society, politically and socially, starkly reminiscent of an America of the 1950s.
Joe Scarborough, the conservative co-host of MSNBC’s news show, “Morning Joe”, offers context for the war against youth by identifying a major failing of our elected leadership today: providing quality, affordable education (college or technical) to a successor generation of young people.
Historically, one of our greatest priorities as a nation was to ensure a future for our children and the current generation. We have always tied ourselves to our future through our legatees. This tradition ensured the continued prosperity of this great country. A missing ingredient today, however, is an economy dynamic enough to absorb the millions of unemployed and a successor generation — many of which are already victims of a dearth of opportunity despite their educational achievements.
Scarborough says, “We need to invest in people who work hard to get an education. We need to make education and training higher priorities than protecting subsidies for oil companies and special tax breaks for billionaires. The way we spend our money shows our values …” He goes on to say he values people who work hard to build a future. It is counterintuitive to wage war against them.
The economic and political landscape for the current cohort of 80 million 18 to 34-year-olds is not encouraging. Income mobility enabled prior generations to move from one class to another creating a window of opportunity for their children. This tradition, perhaps by default, perhaps by design, is under assault by an oligarchy of entrenched and powerful interests opposed to the size and function of government in our lives, opposed to the role of government in stimulating growth of an economy that offered a temporary tide of opportunity, and opposed to public investments in education and infrastructure.
For any emerging generation, two early and sacred keys to success and a future are education and opportunity. Not always in that order but they are linked in the minds of generations of Americans.
An astounding, but recent, development birthed under the guise of deficit reduction is the growing level of organized resistance to quality affordable education for the average American. Dismissing public school teachers and cutting funds for education are the preferred remedies to balance state budgets by conservative governors and state legislators in GOP-controlled states. Higher rates of public sector unemployment that are the inevitable consequence are just more collateral damage.
The crisis continues within publicly funded colleges and universities. Parents today are frantic because the costs of education are spiraling out of control. The statistics are sobering: Since 1999, average student loan debt has increased by 511 percent. In 2010, total outstanding student loan debt exceeded total outstanding credit card debt in the U.S. for the first time ever. This year, total student loan debt is expected to exceed $1 trillion. Millions of families are being crushed by this tsunami of student debt.
You ask, “Where is the war?” The forces arrayed against the interests of youth today are resident in state legislatures and the Congress of the United States. In 2007, Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. This legislation reduced interest rates for college loans — Stafford Loans subsidized by the government — from 6.8 percent to today’s 3.4 percent. This provision expires on July 1 if the Congress does not act.
Last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan reminded us that more than 7 million students would be financially squeezed if interest rates were to rise. The average additional cost is $1,000.
U.S. Representative Hansen Clarke of Michigan introduced H.R. 4170, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012, which would extend a helping hand to students struggling under massive debts. The President and the presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney support this proposed legislation.
However, the future of this proposed legislation rests with a Republican-controlled House that is hostile to public education, hostile to public school teachers and opposed to Pell Grants — the life’s blood for over a million needy students who otherwise would be denied the opportunity for a college education. Congressional debate in the House would appear to focus on how to absorb the costs of an interest rate reduction.
The rub for the current generation is simple to understand. Elected officials at the state and national level whose particular partisan policies now cripple our economy, would bring us the Ryan budget (which doubles student loan rates), defund Planned Parenthood, support the Blunt Amendment, support Personhood Amendments and eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are, themselves, the beneficiaries of policies of an earlier generation of bipartisan leadership that built and sustained a strong economy, and offered affordable education while creating job opportunities for those willing to work.
Today’s college graduates prefer to be less debt-ridden. Their indictment of today’s leadership — of both parties — is legitimate. They bear witness to how easily elected officials of both major parties at the state and national levels are easily corrupted by a powerful corporate, financial and political elite financed by hundreds of millions of super PAC dollars and campaign contributions. Legislation narrowly crafted to serve more narrow private and corporate interests further circumscribes the future prospects for today’s youth.
If the civic lessons of this successor generation have taught them anything, it might be that a strong correlation exists between legislation that strengthens the middle class and an economic and political climate in which a new generation can feel hopeful about its future.
Youth today are in a war for their future and a claim to the resources and institutions that form the architecture for a better future than they currently confront. In a war, you fight or capitulate. These are their choices.
Here is the landscape. The conservatives and their Republican allies are aggressively seeking to deny them their franchise, undermine public education, and return women to the home while making government and elected officials the ultimate arbiter of women’s reproductive rights and contraception. Moreover, they would despoil the quality of the environment, gut any legislation that provides a framework for values of fairness and equity, and enshrine the idea that every citizen bears sole responsibility for themselves, their success and most assuredly their failures.
These are examples of the new rules others seek to anchor in law and practice, and they are waging war against a new generation to ensure success. The motivation behind this cascade of retrograde legislation is a desire to refashion a simpler, more narrowly structured society that advanced the priorities of a particular stratum of society — not the interests of the collective. If they are successful, this would represent a fundamental redefinition of American values where, as the President noted, “A shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of people struggle to get by.”
The choice is clear: capitulate in this war for the future and accept a new values-paradigm, or stand and fight back as voters did in Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, Mississippi, Virginia and Maine, for example.
Demand accountability from those who represent you! Those we elect will endanger liberty, constrain opportunity, and undermine traditional values if allowed. It is we, the electorate that are their enablers.
Charles Blow, columnist for the New York Times, suggests it is time to focus. Focus on those who would “repeal, restrict, restructure, reclaim and restore” Blow advises. He is right! The current generation and its allies need to fully engage in this election and elect a brand of leadership — at all levels — that embraces the winds of change and that does not recoil in horror at the prospect of losing positions of power and privilege due to change.
We need to elect a brand of progressive leadership that is more “pro” than “anti”, that respects fairness, equality, inclusion, personal liberty, free choice, the rule of law and the Constitution.
We win the war being waged against the successor generation by fighting for the beliefs and values that enrich the lives of the many and strengthen our society, while creating opportunities for those who would succeed us.
Every generation must have its turn.