Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Obama's Metamorphosis: From Center-Center-Right to Right-Right

Last year I listened to the SOTU while driving through the South. We had to tune in by AM radio, and at times the crackling speech was as we went deeper into the south. We were headed to South Korea, and I still had hopes for what Obama intended to do for the country. While that sense of hope was somewhat of a flicker, it was still there. Today, that then dwindling flicker has been fully extinguished. Not even a faint string of smoke or the leftover hint of hot wax remains.

When President Obama delivered his last SOTU, I had even received a letter from him a few weeks weeks earlier about the student lending crisis. Of course, the President didn't call it that, but that's why he was responding to me. As of this date, the White House continues to shift the conversation back to the same sorry message. They can't get away from the safe and easy lines that relate to prospective and current students. To hell with the current debtors. Even though the outstanding student loan debt is nearing a whopping $900 billion, we're still going to talk about how we'll take care of those who don't currently carry the burden of debt. Oh, and we'll be sure to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.  Because helping prospective students is really going to make a difference when it comes to a generation, actually generations, of people who are part of the indentured educated class. Keep up the good work! You're really making a friggin' difference.

In President Obama's last SOTU, he mentioned student loan debt at least four times. His most inspiring line was this: "In the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college."

He should have added, "well, what I mean to say is, no prospective students should go broke when they go to college in the future. To hell with those of you who are current student loan debtors. We've been convinced that you're not a problem in D.C. That's what the the associations for the universities and students are telling us. Oh, so is the College Board. I'm pretty sure I've had some dinners with Nelnet and Sallie Mae. Besides, I read the Post, and they never seem to make a stink about student loan debt. They've all assured me that you're really not a concern. So, to hell with you. But . . . please rally around me for my next election, so that I can break more promises and then bitterly complain that you are ungrateful and whiny!"

Welcome to the new age of Right-Right Obama.

Related Links

"Bitter Taste, Bad Letter," July 19, 2010

"You don't say? The President tells the Arizona Daily that higher education needs to be affordable," September 28, 2010

"Last call with the White House," February 5, 2010

"Quick Notes: The President's State of the Union Address," January 21, 2010

"The Obama Administration: Why they have failed (Part II)," January 11, 2010

"The Obama Administration: Why they have failed," January 7, 2010 

Other related links

"Barack Obama - Out of the closet," Michael Brenner, Huffington Post, January 24, 2011

"Obama's transformation culminates in Tuesday's State of the Union Address," Sam Youngman, The Hill, January 24, 2011

Olbermann calls Obama a sellout, MSNBC, December 7, 2010

Good luck, indentured educated citizens! You're on your own!


Anonymous said...


Nando said...

This man basically through his young, college-educated supporters under the bus - so as not to offend his campaign donors. You talk about an opportunist.

This man has the backbone of a jellyfish. He surrounded himself with Fortune 500 executives, the moment he was elected.

Cryn, I lived in Des Moines, IA during the primaries. I was still a student at Drake University, a.k.a. Third Tier Drake, at the time. Nobody gave this guy much chance of winning the Iowa primary. Everyone figured that the contest would be between Hillary and Edwards.

Iowa is unique in American politics, in that it has a great balance between Republicans, Democrats, and independent voters. There is also a great mix of elderly, young, families, etc. In fact, the state and federal districts have reflected this blend. In sum, it is one of the few states where congressional and state voting districts that are competetive.

Iowa is a lily white state. No one gave Obama much chance. However, he won the primary because of the tons of students at Iowa's numerous college towns who came out and campaigned hard for him. They registered and brought out other students, and they helped spread his message, i.e. "Change you can believe in."

It turns out this chameleon changed his colors. He is a corporate-centrist Democrat.

This clown turned his backs on those students. He won other primaries because of the youth vote. Hell, we took certain states because of students.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, the last election put a stop to any of Obama's moves regarding Student Lending.

The way things are now, nothing much will change for the Indentured Educated Class.

In fact, it may now take many years for any change to come about, and we'll all be little old men and ladies blogging away.

But the people in debt now will get old and slowly die off, and have their debts discharged that way.

And sooner or later everyone in America will learn that Student Loans are a foolish investment. Maybe that is the best we can hope to accomplish--to get the word out. The pot at the end of the raimbow ain't gold. It's a bottomless cauldron of debt and despair.

Liz said...

I simply do not understand why the Left spends all its time complaining that everyone else isn't far enough left. Do you realize how badly we were crushed in the last election?

What do you think is going to happen if we lose the presidency next year? Do you really think the biggest problem in the US today is that the Democratic president hanging on by his fingernails to a country that has been ran off a cliff, while the GOP and Fox and the majority of Americans complain that our biggest problem is TOO MUCH GOVERNMNET?

The Dems who sit around analyzing the whole, "Golly I wonder why 2/3 of all voters disagree with us..." and then start shrieking whenever Obama differs in the slightest from the detailed political orthodoxy they've set up in Fantasy World where unions account for more than a handful of votes... You're the problem.

Push against the GOP. Then yell at Obama. And you just might find that it doesn't matter.

You people didn't put Al Gore in - he wasn't enough for you - you had to vote for Nader. (Full disclosure, I voted for Nader for this exact reason). We were all wrong. Vote Dem. Win. Then yell.

If you lost, like we just did, then lather, rinse, and repeat.

Sorry to sound so upset I am just done with hearing all the complaining from Progressives. (Full disclosure, I am a Progressive). You voted for Sestak. You ran against your own party. YOU LOST.

Now we are so much farther behind, and no matter how many times we play this game, no one but me seems to see the pattern here.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

Liz - pardon me? Who are you suggesting I voted for? Do you know whom I voted for?

Nando said...


When given the choice of Republican or "Republican Lite," people will go with the genuine article.

John Kerry did not take a stand on the Florida minimum wage. Voters supported the measure, in overwhelming numbers. He lost.

Al Gore lost his own state, and Arkansas, in 2000. Thanks to corporate money - and several decisions from the Supremes stating that "campaign cash = free speech" - the Dems have folded. They have been co-opted. Look at the Democratic "Leadership" Council. They are sellouts. Clinton was a "New" Democrat.

Jim Hightower has documented that the Dems are all about corporate money. Nader pointed this out, as well. Instead of looking at why Gore lost to an idiot, they chose to blame Nader - for having the audacity of running as a third party candidate. No one is entitled to votes. They must be earned.

People are wise about the Dems. Their actions DO NOT MEET their lofty rhetoric. At least with Republicans, you KNOW poor people are going to get screwed.

Anonymous said...

Bush and Gore are intellectual equals. That should tell you a lot about the 2000 general election.

Anonymous said...

There are so few colleges that could survive without Pell Grant and federal student loan monies that there is tremendous resistance to talking about anything except for current and prospective students. The colleges simply can't make payroll without the federal spigot. Before the market crash in 2008 it would have seemed plausible that Ivy League institutions and another dozen or so other colleges with large endowments could get by for a semester or so if the spigot were turned off, but this now does not seem to be the case, as bourne out by unwillingness to make administrative cuts in their institutional overhead, even given the tremendous downturn in 2008. Harvard is cutting back on things like morning coffee.

Many pundits and self-appointed education pontificators look with dismay on colleges' budget web pages when they notice that fiscal support from State governments is way down and a higher and higher share of the college budget comes from something called "tuition and fees." What they aren't saying is that much of "tuition and fees" (and almost all of it at some schools) comes from federal student loan funding.

Every Congressperson has a college or trade school in his/her district and will fight tooth and nail to keep the spigot flowing, regardless of party politics. Despite the fact that consolidation loans make money for the taxpayer, the colleges view them as taking away resources (and attention) from current and prospective students, i.e., from the colleges.

No one, even the President, would say college is for everyone. Yet it is difficult to speak about alternatives to college because, if students run off to one of those alternatives, then there aren't enough students for the existing colleges. What about a system, as there is in at least one other wealthy country, were vocations programs are funded through apprenticeships at private employers? Private employers see the benefit of hiring and retaining trained and loyal employees. The cost of training, which American employers balk at (see "H1B visa program") is easily worth the payoff to the employer, particular if there is no other option. In the USA they are so used to government(s) paying for all of this that it is difficult to roll back the clock. Originally the Higher Ed Act was only for traditional colleges and graduate programs. Aid to students attending trade schools was handled through U.S. Department of Labor. The trade schools quickly learned that HEW was much less into oversight and compliance and program integrity than DOL and lobbied to get included in the Higher Ed Act.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

@Anonymous Jan. 25 - I don't entirely disagree with the points your making. However, I am arguing about an entirely different issue. Current student loan debtors ARE a different group of people than current and/or prospective students. Of course, many in the latter category will become part of the former (i.e., indentured educated servants). Unfortunately, none of the associations for students really engage - or so it seems to me - in discussing the harsh realities of graduating with a mountain of debt. Instead, they tend to focus on trivial issues, such as the cost of textbooks. Mind you, textbooks are oftentimes grossly overpriced, but they don't follow you - like many student loans - to your grave. That means the issue is quite inconsequential in the larger picture. In addition, I worked in the publishing industry, and for W.W. Norton & Company. They do a very good job of keeping the cost of textbooks down, but the others . . . not so much. So I am familiar with those conversations from a business perspective.

That said, I am not entirely sure if you're arguing against my concerns and critique of the president's refusal to acknowledge the student lending crisis. It is astonishing to me that any reference to student loan issues has been entirely erased from his rhetoric. That was not the case last year in his SOTU. It is great that he is trying to protect the Pell Grant Program (although I am not entirely convinced that it's really making that big of a difference, and there are experts in higher education circles who have made me question its validity). But I am making a different point. Therefore, if you could clarify, I'd be greatly appreciative. Thanks for sharing.

Liz said...

"People are wise about the Dems. Their actions DO NOT MEET their lofty rhetoric"

No one cares about actions meeting lofty rhetoric. I don't know why people who are interested in politics are DETERMINED to picture an electorate marking politicians on a score board in terms of esoteric policy points. It doesn't happen. People use broad strokes.

Look, I shouldn't have been so upset about the post. I just think it's completely misguided to sit around complaining about Obama and yelling at Obama and otherwise indulging ourselves in the kind of 8th grade, "This is what me and all my buddies think and everyone else just isn't as cool."

Visiting the White House is basically a waste of time. It's a nice little service that the office provides so people can get excited and feel included. Arguing with other lefties about the small points of policy implementation WHEN NO POLICY HAS BEEN IMPLEMENTED OR IS BEING CONSIDERED - also a waste of time. You're a lawyer. You should have a fairly good idea of the limits of the executive branch.

What you need to do is find a bill currently in play that will help, find a committee that oversees the rules that are hurting grads right now, and work on influencing people who can influence these things (Hint: do NOT start at the White House).

For example, Franken has a bill to allow private student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy isn't a great deal for students, but the current laws give the banks no incentive to work with lendees. Change that, and you start to break apart the logjam. Meet with Franken's staff. Find out who they think is a threat to the bill (currently in the judiciary committee where it is expected to expire) and then find a way to put all your outrage to work on THAT elected official.

Another example: Arne Duncan is rewriting the rules for lenders. I don't know a lot about which committee is working on it and what government officials can change it, but I borrowed $15,000 from Access Group in 2006. I have been paying diligently since graduation in 2007. Every month my payment shows at least $100 going to the principal. And today I still, SOMEHOW, owe this stupid bank $15,867. How is this balance going up? What in the living holy hell is this bank allowed to do with my account?

Maybe you could find out that, instead of yelling about the damn executive branch. Because there's just no upside in becoming part of the cacophony of voices complaining that the president has somehow managed to vary from your personal orthodoxy. Politics is all about meshing the greatest possible number of personal orthodoxies to accomplish the greatest number of things for the greatest number of people. Not excluding everyone like, again, an 8th grade club for the cool kids.

I've been a huge supporter of yours for years. I don't know what happened as soon as you got to DC, but a post like this is not the way to get anything done. (Except help find some small funding from another NGO run by ineffectual policy paper writers, and then you can all sit out the next election together, while the country suffers). And I really, really want you to succeed.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

Liz, I am seeking out alternatives, and that is precisely what I was doing in D.C. I don't think a critique about Obama means that I am somehow an "8th grader," but I appreciate your feedback. There are obviously other ways to solve this problem, and I am working on those - we are in agreement. That doesn't mean, however, I am not free to be critical of someone who has done nothing whatsoever to help the student lending crisis.

I want this to succeed, too. That's why I continue to fight on behalf of the indentured educated class.

Nando said...

Liz, do you want to discuss this issue like an adult? I did not vote for this corporate stooge. I do recognize that he largely owes his victory to student organizers. They buoyed his fledgling campaign, during the early primaries.

Be honest. Step back from your strange emotional attachment to this politician. Did anyone initially give this one-term U.S. senator a chance to beat Hillary or Edwards?!

He talked a big game. (Early on, I realized that the man had less substance than a Taco Bell taco. However, many educated white libs and college students jumped on his bandwagon.) Anyone with one iota of common sense recognizes that this pinhead went back on his promises. Young people were excited about this guy. In the end, the most significant change he has brought to the Oval Office is the skin tone of the person occupying that temporary position.

If this corporate drone is not re-elected, I will not shed a tear. I don't anticipate cheering, either. I imagine a bigger tool will take his place in about 2 years.

Lastly, I understand that politicians make concessions. (I actually work as a lobbyist, but thanks for that "education" on the democratic process, anyway.) I don't expect a purist. However, this man has sold out his supporters. Where is the honor, decency or courage in that?!?!

The Dems had control of both houses and the executive branch for two years. They tried to reach out to right wingers, and they paid for it at the polls. Obama is a "shining example" of why people have basically given up on the process, i.e. "They are all liars, cheats, and crooks.” “They don't believe anything they say on the campaign trail. They will say whatever they can to get elected."

I am sorry that you feel you must defend this empty suit/incompetent boob so ardently. What has he done to help your situation?

Liz said...

I really don't have an emotional attachment to a particular politician. What I have is an email in-box full of emails analyzing and criticizing Dems, and they're all from Dems/Progressives.

I also have Republican relatives who have sooooo enjoyed the last two years, and look forward to a return to full power, when they will "Do it right this time without that Democratic congress that ruined things, or Sallie Mae."

The combination of the two has drive me a little bonkers.

Your entire "He sold out his supporters," neglects to factor in the fact that his supporters appear to be morons, more interested in pushing their own petty issues than in the direction of the country.

In the last election, when Dems faced steep historical odds favoring the party out of power, and an organized and HIGHLY skilled opposition - the Progressives spent their money and time on candidates meant to THROW ELECTIONS in order to "send a message."

I don't know why they thought, "We'll help you lose," would do anything for anyone in DC, but it's crap like that alienating the base. No one likes an internal fight. They just avoid the whole thing. Meanwhile, the GOP pushes to end social security, and, yay, it sounds like you have a policy paper to address why it's Obama's fault that we'll lose that battle too. Meanwhile, you're doing NOTHING but yelling at Dems about how we should care more.

It's incredibly irritating.

Liz said...

PS - I wanted Hillary. And I think all most of the online rhetoric about Obama is spread by 1) Dems who are trying to cover for their own incredible incompetence (the executive branch doesn't really do half of what people seem to think it can) and 2) Tea party types who think it's a funny, clever way to spread disinformation in the other side. (I've met people who joked about doing this, have no idea how prevalent it is).

Really though, it's just so old, "Oh my lord! He didn't save us!" Who really thought one guy would?

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

Liz, thank you for your comments. I am not really sure where to begin, and since I am driving you bonkers (apparently), I'll keep this short. I think it quite absurd that you would even suggest that I think Obama would "save us." Wrong. I won't address the rather insulting and condescending remarks you've made about some so-called policy paper I'm drafting - that's neither productive nor worth your time. I've already clearly wasted it. It makes me wonder if you have some ax to grind with me, and I'm simply not aware of it.

Liz said...

I don't have an ax to grind with you. Nando asked some questions and I answered. I'm not against policy papers per se, or yours in particular.

I am opposed to wasting time putting down the president when 1) He isn't in a position to fix the student debtor situation 2) Costing him support could put us all in a very bad position quite soon (the GOP wants to roll us back to the Gilded Age, and they have a lot of support) And 3) Most of the complaining is being done by people who should have done more last year and now seem to have settled on Obama as scapegoat for their own inability to make a case to the public (obviously that doesn't mean you, it's just a pet peeve).

You don't win change by complaining about the president. You might win points with DC insiders, but it's at the expense of both people who might support you and people who can really change things.

Anonymous said...

Schools open their doors, shut down, owners retire, and so on. There isn't a constant list of schools over the past few decades. Thus, if your policy paper is suggesting that schools should be responsible and offer financial support to former students who carry high debts, that sounds like the right path, but there is still the issue of tracking down schools which have disappeared. A team of lawyers and investigators would be needed to find assets squirreled away domestically and internationally. Of course the best approach would be one where schools would pay up front into an insurance pot at time of loan origination (a "lockbox"). The insurance pot would be invested conservatively and would grow and be available for compensation purposes down the line. This would avoid the problem of tracking down scofflaw schools after the fact. And it has long precedent. Historically schools have been required to put in at least one-ninth, out of their own money, for accessing funds from the federal campus-based programs.

Pell Grants and federal student loans are in essence a postsec voucher program. The ability to pay for education is provided to citizens but the federal government is in no way responsible or to blame for how the money is used. Students are not interviewed and queried on how they are going to use the money; they sign under penalty of perjury that the funds will be used for legal educational purposes. In the USA, the federal government is prohibited from getting involved in managing schools -- elementary, secondary, postsecondary -- nor can it impose a specific academic curriculum for these schools or exercise authority over school superintendents, school principals, college presidents, etc.

Pell Grants are not a driver in the cost of education. Look at the average Pell Grant. Then look at the average sticker price of full-time enrollment in postsecondary education. Pell covers such a low percent that the modest nominal increases over the past 35 years (which translate to a real decline) are a flea on the elephant's back. Student loans, on the other hand, may be a driver, although loan limits didn't increase from 1980 to 2008 -- a period of high sticker price inflation in postsec. The introduction and expansion of open-ended loan products which have constant accrual of interest -- unsub student loans and Grad Plus -- show the greatest risk for increasing the cost of education.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

@Anonymous, Jan. 27, you make excellent points. Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation.

Trust me, I am on the fence about Pell Grants, and for the very reasons you mentioned above. I know that it's really not clear if they are that useful, and when you do look at the average sticker price, it's a pittance. I know that there's been quite a bit of work among higher education policymakers who have said similar things about the Pell Grant Program.

Anonymous said...


So if the temporary occupant of the white house is incompetent, we should support him anyway? That is weak logic. No one expects one person to save us. That;s why the SOB has thousands of people working for him.

Serulean said...

I totally agree with Cryn here. Supporters of obama can play any amount of mind games they want to excuse the rich and powerful president and pretend he hasn't made choices in his post and as head of his party. The democrats had all the power in the world in 2008, and they chose to sit on it--they couldn't even bring up a vote on restoring bankruptcy protections to student loans, or virtually anything else that would be of real import to those of us struggling desperately with endless student loan debt. So no crocodile tears or desperate pleas for these people because they let their twins the republicans win by showing they had no substantial commitment to social justice themselves.