Campus Scenes

Obama as a Faded Poster

For young adults, a lost opportunity -- not that he was going to give them one.

By 9.5.12

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President Obama spoke in three college towns last week: Ames, Iowa, Fort Collins, Colorado, and Charlottesville, Virginia,. In his nomination acceptance speech, Congressman Paul Ryan described the recent college graduate, unemployed, living at home, looking at the faded poster of then Senator Obama from the 2008 election on his wall. I don't know who is more foolish: college students coming to hear President Obama and applauding him when their siblings who are college graduates are sitting at home doing nothing, or President Obama trying to sell his record to college students.

The President made much the same pitch of about 30 minutes at all three stops. Notably, he took no questions. We can only imagine what bright, objective, student editors might have asked him.

The Economy: The President stated that "[w]e knew that solving our biggest challenges would take more than one year, or one term, or one President." An enterprising student editor might have asked him about how this comports with his February 2, 2009, statement that "if I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition." And a student editor might have asked about why another four years would improve the lot of young graduates who currently have a 50% unemployment rate.

Energy: The President argued for an "all-of-the-above" energy policy, for renewable resources, for less foreign oil, for an energy plan not written by the oil companies, for new fuel standards for cars. He stated, "[W]hat's extreme about the idea that instead of giving $4 billion a year in tax subsidies to oil companies that are making a profit every time you pump gas -- it makes more sense to keep investing, using that money to invest in homegrown energy sources that have never been more promising." A student editor might have asked him about his rejection of the Keystone pipeline, about his Administration's slow or non-existent permitting of oil and gas leases on federal lands, how subsidies given to oil companies are different from subsidies given to companies in other industries about which he makes no complaints, how a profit for selling gas is a bad thing, how much the Federal Government profits from the taxes on a gallon of gas, why he and his EPA oppose "homegrown energy sources" such as coal and natural gas.

Immigration: The President argued for his suspension of the rules affecting young, illegal immigrants: "[I]it doesn't make sense for us to tell young people who have grown up in America, who have pledged allegiance to the flag, who have understood themselves to be Americans, who want to serve in our military or attend our universities, that somehow because their parents were undocumented, they should be sent back to countries they've never even heard of. That's not who we are as a people." A student editor might wonder whether such sons and daughters of illegal immigrants had never even heard of the countries of their parents' origin, and whether they have not in fact returned on a number of occasions to their home countries. (The DHS policy recognizes brief absences abroad.) An editor might wonder about people who understand themselves to be American but who, although knowing their illegal status, decided to remain after they became adults. An editor might have asked the President what he understood "the rule of law" meant when his policy waives, rather than enforces, the laws of Congress. And an editor might have asked about the President's response to the impact on college students and graduates of an expected competition for jobs of up to 1.7 million such young adults.

Health Care: The President declared that Obamacare had allowed nearly seven million young people able to stay on their parents' health insurance plans. An editor would have commented to the President that this seven million consists of unemployed young adults (or employed by employers who do not provide health insurance), who are fortunate to have at least one parent who is employed by an employer who provides health insurance. An editor might have asked why the age of 26 had been selected as the maximum age, and if the President had considered, given the current economic conditions, extending the maximum age from 26 to 28 or 30 or higher. A student editor might also have asked the President: "If the government can require a health insurer to insure a 25-year old, who may be married and have children and not living with his or her parents, then would the government consider requiring a health insurer to insure the unemployed 55-year old parent of an insured 25-year old -- until the parent was eligible for Medicare?"

A student editor might also ask him of his promises that we could keep our insurance if we liked it, keep our doctor if we liked her, and all of the uninsured would be insured.

Education: The President touted a tax credit for up to $10,000 paid for college tuition. An editor could observe that such government financial aid gives colleges a license to raise their tuition by equivalent amounts.

As to the administration of student loans, the President declared, "We fixed the student loan system that was giving billions of dollars to banks as middlemen." An astute student editor would respond that the word "fixed" was inappropriate since the system was not broken, that the President had eliminated many jobs in banking, and that he had displaced the private sector in favor of the government. The President could be asked to look at the larger perspective, namely, that the Federal Government is itself playing the role of middleman when it takes tax dollars from individuals and companies and then sends the money back -- after it has siphoned off large sums for administration.

Contraception: The President exclaimed his success in having Obamacare provide "free" contraception. He did not mention abortifacients or sterilization. A student editor could ask why the President, a former professor of constitutional law, believed it was "fair" to require private employers to provide contraception in the face of their deeply held religious beliefs. The editor could also inquire: "If contraception decreases the perceived risk of pregnancy resulting from sex, and this produces an increase in sexual activity, and there are quantified failure rates for various methods of contraception, then doesn't government-mandated access to contraception increase the rates of pregnancy?" A student editor could also ask, "Your Administration has said that contraception saves insurers money because it is less costly than pregnancy. The death of an individual saves health insurers money. What is your Administration's position on reducing health care for patients consuming too much?"

Afghanistan: The President told his audiences that he had ended the war in Iraq as he had promised and that he was on track to end the war in Afghanistan. Aside from the fact that he was fulfilling some campaign promises, he did not say why this would be of interest to a college audience. For example, a smaller military means fewer jobs. A student editor could ask him whether he was appealing to young people's abhorrence of war. Was he saying that a drawdown in troops would end the exposure of their generation to combat deaths and injuries? Was he saying that he was indeed worthy of having received the Nobel Peace Prize? The editor may comment that the President may be ending American involvement, but he could not unilaterally "end the war" and the editor could cite that the Afghan war would continue without American troops. The editor could then ask what provisions were being made to protect Afghan women so they could study and work and travel and fulfill their dreams -- in the face of the continuing "war on women" made by the Taliban.

Same-Sex Marriage: The President stated he was opposed to amending the Constitution to prevent gay couples from marrying because people should be allowed to marry whomever they love. A student editor could ask about the costs of providing benefits to new dependents of federal military and civilian employees and retirees, and the costs in the private sector for the same -- totally unrelated to their original purpose of assisting married couples with children. A student editor could also ask whether the President could articulate any principled difference between a gay couple who loves each other and want to marry and a polygamous group who love and want to marry.

Finally, a good student editor might ask President Obama about the things the President chose not to discuss, among them:

  • Doesn't the 50% increase in the national debt during your first term mean that we and our children will be paying interest to China for the rest of our lives?
  • Doesn't the failure of the Democrats to change Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid mean that there won't be Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid, "as we know it" -- or in any other form -- in another 10 years?
  • Does the President believe in the bankruptcy laws? His auto bailout (for just two of the many auto companies) evaded bankruptcy procedures, depriving creditors of their legal interests, and terminating contracts with car dealerships, rendering tens of thousands of employees unemployed. His home foreclosure initiatives have delayed the inevitable bankruptcies, stretching out by years the recovery in the home market.
  • Does the President have a vision for space exploration -- a vision that would excite the imagination of young people and use the talents of the people who have been educated in science, engineering and mathematics? His current plan guts the space program.

We can wonder if the President will sit for interviews with astute, bright, critical student editors during this campaign.

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About the Author
James M. Thunder is a Washington, D.C. attorney.