Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in Boston, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
In an early Town-hall hosted by Fox News in Detroit Michigan, Hillary Clinton unveiled a new policy that bares a striking resemblance to the most celebrated policy of her primary opponent. Secretary Clinton’s New College Compact or Debt Free Tuition Policy will undoubtedly be seen as a mimic of Bernie Sanders’ Free Tuition proposal. Both proposals, according to each candidate would cover the cost of attendance at any Community College or Public University. Clinton claims however that the Free-Tuition proposal posited by Sanders would do nothing to curtail the rising cost of education. Clinton claims that by offering “Free Tuition” universities are under no pressure to lower costs. She believes that she improves on the Sanders proposal and halts the precipitous rise of tuition costs by requiring colleges to effectively audit their degree programs and remove costs that are unrelated to the degree students are pursuing. “If its not related to a young person getting a degree that will lead to them getting a job, DON’T CHARGE THE STUDENT” railed Clinton. Clinton says that she will expect states to invest in higher education, noting that “we have enough prisons“! Mrs. Clinton offered no specific details on how states will be convinced to cooperate with her plan but she noted that she has the funding worked out, unlike Bernie Sanders. Clinton offers existing students the possibility of refinancing their student debt and paying back existing loans as a percentage of income, relieving students from high interest rates.
The most common quip, used to discredit the proposals of Bernie Sanders as pie-in-the sky fantasies is that he is offering FREE STUFF. The refrain is designed to caricature his ideas as impractical, poorly conceived and insincere. His primary opponent alleges that the admitted socialist is simply making empty promises to misguided youths that are naive in their belief that anything in life could ever be free. While we should take issue with the lack of a detailed financial manifesto from the rising Presidential powerhouse, we should also lay waste to the notion that Bernie Sanders is offering Americans FREE STUFF.
In reality, Bernie Sanders is uncommonly honest in the level of sacrifice he calls upon from every American. It is common practice for Republicans to propose cuts to the federal budget without paying due deference to the pain that will result as a consequence of those cuts. During the last government shut down, Republicans even suggested that closing the government and it’s associated agencies would be without any inconvenience to Americans. Democrats too are often fond of proposing new government programs without reconciling the costs of those programs and yet these are the voices that are most critical of Sanders and his proposed FREE STUFF.
Senator Sanders has proposed tuition free community colleges and fully paid for Public Universities but he has never suggested that this would be free. Instead he has suggested that this perk of citizenship be covered by the taxes that we all currently pay. We may quibble with the precise cost of the proposal but we cannot say that Bernie Sanders is offering FREE STUFF. He is simply suggesting that instead of borrowing thousands of dollars per semester and carrying with each loan significant interest, students should be permitted to pay for their educations over the course of their entire life-times, in small regularly paid installments also known as TAXES! Far from offering FREE STUFF Mr. Sanders is uncharacteristically honest in confessing that he will raise the taxes of middle class and wealthy citizens. We may as individuals assess if the benefits of collectively purchased amenities to our culture outweigh the proposed increase in taxes but again, He hasn’t offered anything for free!
Despite Mr. Sanders marketing himself as an avowed socialist, I question sincerely why his proposal is derided with such intense cold war heat. In the minds of most Americans we are a Democratic Republic despite offering fully paid for K-12 educations for all. This begs the question of why critics assert that we would suddenly morph into a soviet commune for simply extending our publicly paid for offering from K-12 to K-16? Mr. Sanders is simply suggesting that the term Public have meaning for Public Universities. He is suggesting that Community Colleges should be affordable for those in the community. And he is making provision for each individual to pay for his or her education by obligating them to pay into an admittedly collectivized pool for the entirety of their lives. In some sense Sanders is propheting the conservative notion that every individual has the personal responsibility to pay for an education.
Those that are puzzled by the attraction Americans have to Sander’s proposal should consider that many Americans pay significant portions of their incomes in taxes and feel very little benefit. They drive along roads that are unsightly, transit in Airports that are unworthy of a great nation and protest the expenditure of their tax dollars on wars with which they disagree. The success of Sanders can be seen as the triumph of the notion that Americans want to see a tangible value for the taxes they are currently paying in ways that directly benefit them.
The Sanders proposal for Universal Healthcare is socialized medicine but the notion that socialized or collectively bargained and paid for services are free is a gross misnomer. When citizens pay taxes for services, they have paid for them. They have not been “given” anything. Public Schools are not free. When the government contracts with a private company to pave roads near your home, this service was not free. The term handout cannot be used to characterize services for which an individual has paid her/his fair share of taxes. To do so would be like characterizing a paid buffet as a free meal. They have in fact, paid for their portion. If we are going to criticize the proposals of Presidential hopefuls we should do so with accuracy and an appreciation for nuance.
Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders were finally alone in their last debate before the New Hampshire Primary. The removal of former Governor Martin O’malley proved to be surprisingly impactful as the two hopefuls sparred in the best political match of the season. The event hosted by MSNBC stars Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow was undoubtedly the best of innumerable debates on a multitude of channels. There were no attempts at mockery in this debate and no allusions to the marital status of any other candidates, instead the two politicians engaged in substantive exchanges aimed squarely at the nation’s most pressing issues. Emerging from the debate were fewer distinctions in values and instead a display of the Democratic Party’s struggle between pragmatism and idealism. Hillary Clinton emphasized that she is a battle tested acolyte and a known quantity. Voters, she humorously quipped know just about everything there is to know about her life. Clinton argued with Sanders that she too is a believer in Universal Healthcare but her idealism has been tempered by the political realities of her decades long struggle with America’s most powerful political interests. Sanders positioned himself as the unapologetic advocate for the truest aims of the Democratic base and the ideals of the Great Society. Sanders painted himself as untarnished by Wall-street’s bribery and Clinton struggled to explain how she was not left compromised by her acceptance of speaking fees that soared above a half-a million dollars per hour of speaking. Sanders scored significantly in the domestic discussion, nestled comfortably in his wheel-house as he continued to promote campaign finance reform, wrenching the big banks apart to prevent another “Too Big To Fail” crisis, Universal Healthcare and even his most controversial Free College movement. Sanders was summarily dismissed from the stage once the conversation turned to Foreign Policy which has become the sole dominion of Hillary Clinton. Sanders was visibly out of his element when discussing world affairs and Clinton made her most impressive rational for her candidacy which stands firmly on her level of expertise.
The debate was notable for the sharp tonal edge of what Clinton herself described as a “Vigorous Agreement”. Sanders successfully portrayed Clinton as the spouse of Wall Street while Clinton successfully portrayed herself as the pragmatic advocate of incremental progress. Clinton suggested that she represents competent administration and a plausible means to progressive ends. The debate landed squarely on Sanders as representative of democratic idealism and Clinton effectively arguing that Sanders is well intention-ed but delusional regarding the likelihood of his success.
The New Hampshire Debate was quite simply, spectacular. Who Won the exchange depends simply on the weight one gives toward the Heart or the Head, the Ego versus the Super-Ego and Idealism tempered by Pragmatism.