Four years ago, while most of us were still in high school, we watched helplessly as the global financial system crumbled. Many of our parents and neighbors lost their jobs, and our futures suddenly became much less certain than they had ever been. Since then, we’ve seen class after class of peers graduate into an unforgiving job market that is stubbornly slow to improve. We understand that this is not the recovery that the Obama administration predicted, but neither are we naïve about the severity of the crisis that preceded it. In fact, it is largely through the ingenuity of the Obama administration and Federal Reserve chairman Ben S. Bernanke ’75 that we avoided the kind of depression witnessed in the 1930’s.
While President Obama’s stewardship of the economy has been admirable, it is important to also assess both the candidates’ past performances and their respective priorities when deciding who to support this November. The president is responsible not only for encouraging economic growth but also for establishing our national agenda. With his emphasis on education, innovation, and home investment, President Barack Obama is working to lay the groundwork for the kind of society we’ll be proud to enter upon graduation.
Education is the individual’s key to success in today’s society, as well as our nation’s key to success in the world at large. Barack Obama has shown himself to be a tireless advocate for students and, by extension, our national competitiveness. He has increased the amount of available Pell grants, and has successfully prevented interest rates on student loans from doubling. His 2010 restructuring of the federal student loan program under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which ended the practice of subsidizing private-sector loans to students, has allowed increased funding to reach young people instead of flowing into the coffers of America’s largest banks. This kind of creative and effective solution demonstrates that the President is serious when he pledges to help American students get the education today’s economy requires. Additionally, the Obama administration has taken a hard line against for-profit universities, which frequently underperform in their educational mission. When it comes secondary education, the president has supported maintaining the accountability associated with No Child Left Behind, while easing up on the parts that are overly punitive and unconstructive. This focused flexibility is essential when solving problems as complex as K-12 education in America.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has oscillated between an intellectually impoverished game of “me too” on Pell grants and federal student loan interest rates, and a run-of-the-mill attack against conservative bêtes-noirs like universities, bureaucrats, and teachers unions. Furthermore, his unspecified commitment to balance the federal budget while reducing tax rates across the board and raising military spending force us to question whether those tax cuts for millionaires might come at the expense of student-oriented programs.
Yet the divergence in priorities does not end with education. President Obama believes in marriage equality; Mitt Romney opposes it. President Obama wants to mildly reduce military spending to create a more modernized force and free up funds for domestic investment; Mitt Romney wants to establish a minimum level of military spending, and raise it well above its current level. President Obama believes the government has a roll to play in encouraging the development of valuable industries like sustainable energy; Mitt Romney does not find such a roll for government. President Obama believes in a deficit reduction plan combining spending cuts and tax increases; Mitt Romney is a cosignatory of Grover Norquist’s “no-tax” pledge, which directly subordinates the government’s revenue-raising capabilities to a private interest group.
At the end of the day, this presidential race presents a stark choice between priorities.
Values are important. To treat this election as a referendum against some arbitrary standard of recovery in a nearly unprecedented economic crisis overlooks a large part of why we elect presidents. Not only has President Obama has shown himself an effective economic steward, but he also is prepared to make the choices necessary to keep America on top in the 21st century.