Mitt Romney’s recent rhetoric on student loans is a sure sign that we’ve moved to the general election. In addition to distancing himself from the congressional GOP on student loans—like the president, he wants interest rates to stay low—Mitt Romney has adapted his overall message for the under–30 set, blaming President Obama for high unemployment among young people and a poor job market for recent college graduates. Here’s how he presented the issue at a press availability in Aston, Pennsylvania yesterday:
When you look at fifty percent of the kids coming out of college today can’t find a job or can’t find a job which is consistent with their skills, how in the world can you be supporting a president that’s led to that kind of an economy? […]
“I think this is a time when young people are questioning the support they gave to President Obama three and a half years ago. He promised bringing the country together; that sure hasn’t happened. He promised a future with good jobs and good opportunity; that hasn’t happened. And the pathway that he pursued is one which has not worked. Young people recognize that and I think that’s why they’re going to increasingly look for a different approach.”
The problem with this, as is the case with Romney’s campaign writ large, is that it’s shockingly divorced from the actual circumstances of Obama’s presidency. Like him or hate him, this president isn’t responsible for the poor economy; that distinction goes to George W. Bush, who drove the economy into a ditch and left his successor to clean up the mess. Obama hasn’t been the perfect steward of the economy—he’s been scandalously complacent with the Federal Reserve, for example—but it’s deeply misleading to take the economic circumstances of the last four years and attribute them exclusively to the president.
It’s not hard to understand why Romney has turned his attention to young people. The difference between 2008 and all other recent elections wasn’t youth turnout—it rose to 18 percent from 17 percent in 2004 and 2000—but overwhelming youth support for Democrats. Obama won the youth vote by a margin of 66 percent to John McCain’s 33 percent. According to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center, Obama maintains support from 61 percent of young voters. If he can keep that margin through the fall, then he’s in better shape for reelection. On the same token, if Romney peels a few percentage points from the president, he becomes much more competitive (and might even take a lead).
What’s galling about this push is the fact that Romney is running on a plan that would make life terrible for young people. His tax plan calls for deep cuts for the wealthiest Americans and tax hikes for the lowest earners (who tend to be young). His spending plan, lifted mostly from Paul Ryan, would boost the military, and sack the welfare state—programs for the poor, the elderly, and the disabled would disappear from the federal budget. Indeed, there’s a certain deception in Romney’s rhetoric to students; he promises “a bright and prosperous future” to young people, but his budget calls for the elimination of Pell Grants and most aid to students. And the signature item in his domestic program—ending the Affordable Care Act—would be disastrous for the bulk of young people who don’t have health insurance and risk crippling medical bills.
Insofar that Romney has a “different approach” for the country, it would fall hardest on the mass of young people who don’t exist in the highest reaches of society. Of course, that sums up Romney’s campaign—a massive push to keep privilege with the privileged, and wealth with the wealthy.