Student loan interest rates are reclaiming some of the political spotlight today in advance of a looming July 1 deadline, and Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) talked to MSNBC earlier about the White House support for lower rates. The congressman's response struck me as illustrative of a larger point. For those who can't watch clips online, Messer said (awkward syntax and grammar in the orginal):
"The bottom line is, what you're saying is the president's an effective politician. He does a good job of distracting people from things that they ought to be focused on, and sometimes focusing them on things that while important, listen, none of us want to see student-loan rates spike, are only part of the larger problem.
"I think, as Republicans, we've got to do a better job of explaining how our ideas apply to young people. Sometimes it sounds like he's selling ice cream and we're selling spinach. But I think personal responsibility is pretty cool. There is nothing out of date about freedom, and we need to have the policies that get this budget back in line, stop the explosive growth of spending -- spending that will be paid for by this generation. And we've got to do a better job of explaining that."
The problem with this argument is that none of this makes a lick of sense. It's almost as if the congressman doesn't understand any of the relevant details at all.
First, Messer characterizes student loans as a "distraction" unworthy of the president's time. I can think of a few million families, each of which is poised to take a serious hit in the wallet, who would disagree.
Second, and more important, is the notion that Messer doesn't seem to like student loans themselves. He not only considers the fight over interest rates a "distraction," he also thinks "personal responsibility is pretty cool" -- which in this context, suggests a certain indifference to the needs of students who rely on assistance to pay tuition.
What's more, Messer justifies this hostility towards student loans -- an all-too-familiar position in today's GOP -- by pointing to the deficit and the "explosive growth of spending." But as a matter of policy, this is gibberish -- the deficit is already shrinking at a pace unseen in generations, and hurting students who are already struggling with college debts won't suddenly make the nation's fiscal standing significantly better. For that matter, there's been no "explosive growth" in government spending -- the very idea is simply ridiculous. It's not a matter of opinion; it's a matter of arithmetic.
So what do we have here? A Republican congressman who doesn't want a student-loan interest-rate hike and doesn't want young voters to turn against his party, but who'll nevertheless dismiss student loans as unimportant, prioritizing deficit reduction that's already happening and preventing explosive spending growth that's purely imaginary.
It remains a post-policy political party.