Ten Things Dems Could Do to Win
8. Pass a College Bill of Rights.
It would replace the GI Bill of Rights. If we can't get free college, at least let's make college more accountable. Why Race to the Top so that colleges can soak these kids and let them drop out? Our colleges are happy to take the money and dump the kids of working families after one or two years—deeper in debt, worse off than ever.
What rights should these kids and their parents have?
Make colleges advertise dropout rates.
Make colleges tell which courses actually "work," i.e., help students improve some verbal or other skill.
Make them have outside auditors to prepare reports on this and make such reports public.
Create a kind of Federal Trade Commission to go after colleges and universities that take large sums of tuition but fail to have the overwhelming if not exclusive purpose of ensuring that these students, deep in debt, get a degree. One can define "unfair" or "deceptive" trade practices in this part of our bloated not-for-profit economy just as in any other. While one might not let students and parents sue directly, they could at least file for individual and "class-type" relief with this FTC.
But above all it's time for Barack Obama to tell the country we don't need everyone to go to college. After all, only 27 percent of adults have a bachelor's degree, and there are not enough jobs for them. The only way for the Democrats to stay in power is to stop demoralizing our base and tell people we will create an economy in which a high school degree will mean something.
9. End the filibuster.
Or else, as to all the rest, there really is no point.
10. Get the country out of debt.
Finally, we have to take back the GOP's big issue, the federal debt. Indeed, for every kind of debt—government, consumer, trade—the Democrats have to be the party that gets the country out of debt. That's the only way to bring back a fair and just economy that lifts the middle class. As debt piles up, even our base is freaking out. Deep down, people grasp that America got into this mess with too much private debt. "Hey, if we're all trying to get our own debt down, how does it make sense for the government to run it up?"
"Oh," some of us will say. "These poor unenlightened ones—they don't understand Keynes." Maybe we don't understand Keynes. Keynes would never have happily urged a serious debtor country to go deeper into debt. This is not your great-grandfather's Great Depression. In 1936 Roosevelt could and should have gone into debt—but didn't. We were the biggest creditor country in the world. In World War II we ran up a colossal debt—but it was a debt to ourselves. We baby boomer kids never even noticed. That's why Keynes was so relaxed in 1936 about our going into debt. But otherwise Keynes spent much of his life trying to get debtor countries out of debt—Germany, his own Britain after the war. If one looks at his career, it is clear that Keynes never told a debtor country to go deeper into debt.
As he would point out, much of the debt we pile up in Washington has little or nothing to do with putting people back to work. Much of it is just to balance the books. Because we buy more than we sell, we have a trade deficit. So the books have to balance, right? Someone has to make up the difference. Under Bush we had consumers go into debt to do it. But they're tapped out. So now Washington has to go into debt instead.
But at at some point even Washington is tapped out. What happens then?
We turn back to consumers: "Hey, we're done going into debt. Now it's your turn to go into debt."
No wonder our base freaks out—there isn't any plan to get us out of debt.