There was once a time in the United States (and not that long ago) in which the idea of guaranteeing every American the opportunity to obtain a free public education all the way through college was a widely — even universally — shared dream. In the mid-20th Century, states throughout the country worked hard to expand their community colleges and universities and to keep tuition and fees to a bare minimum. Republicans and Democrats were on board. Here in North Carolina, we even enshrined this important value in our state constitution.
And then, in the latter part of the century, the anti-government, tax-cutting Right reared its backward-looking head. Fueled by millions from reactionary corporate oligarchs, these ideologues commenced a crusade against “government schools” and progressive taxation and within a few decades, thousands of once nearly-free colleges and universities were charging huge, debt-inducing sums to attend.
Now, President Obama, much to his credit, is pushing back against this destructive trend with his proposal to establish a national program — based on work in Tennessee — to make community college free to all students who meet certain requirements. It is an inspired and overdue proposal.
Unfortunately and not surprisingly, the ideologues are pushing back with absurd and hateful blather about “giveaways” and “freebies.” Listen to Louisiana Governor Booby Jindal as quoted in an editorial in this morning’s Wilmington Star News:
“Why stop there?” he said. “Why not have the government buy a car and a house for everyone?”
Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. When supposedly serious elected officials equate providing access to public education with giving people free houses and cars, the national political debate has truly sunk to a new low.
As the Star News noted with admirable restraint in response to Jindal:
“That comment suggests a failure to see education as an investment not only in an individual but in the nation and its economic well-being. An educated work force has the ability to adapt to the ever-changing demands of a global economy, and community and technical colleges offer some of the nation’s most effective and affordable job-training opportunities.”
The Star News might have also noted that the comment suggests a failure to understand the difference between living in a modern, civilized society and some kind of bizarre, feudalistic plutocracy. Let’s fervently hope that Americans quickly dismiss Jindal’s ridiculous Ebenezer Scrooge impression and get on board with the President’s plan ASAP.