The first 100 days of a presidency are the most consequential. The to-do list is extensive: switch out letterhead on memoranda, print thousands of debossed business cards, launder and refit the residence linens, replump the cushion on the Resolute Desk chair, restock the Diet Coke, double check the stores of chocolate chip ice cream. You know, the important things for any new president to properly lord over his kingdom… err… country.
There’s also the not-so-insignificant matter of using freshly installed political capital to push for major policy priorities. Franklin Roosevelt famously cajoled Congress into passing his cache of New Deal bills; Barack Obama signed a large-scale, unfocused stimulus bill; Donald Trump asked for, and never received, funding for an impenetrable border wall.
So, what’s Joe Biden’s blue-sky ask for his first three months in office?
Nothing related to the coronavirus pandemic. Nor anything to do with police brutality and that liberal bugbear “structural racism.” Nor is it an effort to combat the apocalyptic threat of climate change or global warming or celsius-jumping inferno or whatever the left now calls the more palmy temps we’re experiencing.
Biden’s ambition is surprisingly circumscribed—Bernie Sanders’s Bolshevik fever dreams be dashed! The incoming president is asking Congress for an “immediate $10,000 forgiveness of student loans.” On the political see-saw of anarcho-libertarianism to full-bore communism, the request falls somewhere near the fulcrum: specific, likely constitutional, and well below the average debt holding per student.
So it of course isn’t enough for the progressive wing of Biden’s party. A missive recently circulated, endorsed by hundreds of leftie groups, including teacher unions, in which signees urge Biden to proclaim a student-debt jubilee of $50,000-per-guarantor on his first day in office. A handful of Democratic lawmakers have echoed the call, including senators Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer.
Set aside the efficacy of crossing the book on a wide swath of higher-ed debt. Ignore, too, the moral hazard of offering a get-out-of-consequence-free card to young adults for one of the first concrete responsibilities they take on. Don’t bother mentating on the biblical ethics of loan forgiveness in the Book of Leviticus.
Biden zeroing out a chunk of student debt as one of the first acts of his presidency sends a clear signal about the shifting tectonics of our two major parties: that the Democrats are embracing the perception of being the political home for the upper-middle class. The top 40% of income-earning households hold the most university-derived debt. Scotching this borrowed dough isn’t just robbing Peter to pay Paul, but nipping from the 7-11 clerk to subsidize a Brooklyn blogger with a gender studies M.A.
This financial casualty gap also makes for useful politics. As Matthew Walther writes, “[e]liminating student loans is a sop to our professional classes… who more than any other identifiable group decided this year’s presidential election in Biden’s favor.”
In other words, it’s the reward the laptop class and suburb-dwellers get for ousting Trump. And it would ensure the well-to-do remain in the counted-on Democratic column for years going forward.
You don’t have to be a Milton Friedman fanboy or have read Human Action a dozen times to see the perversity at work: those with the deepest pockets voting to deepen their pockets at the expense of everyone else. Mecken’s “advance auction of stolen goods” has never been so pricey.
Forgiving student debt would be part and parcel with the broader elite-benefiting Democratic agenda. Biden is being pressured by his donkey-clique comrades to rescind the cap on state and local tax deduction, which disproportionately impacts his voters in tax-masochistic states like California and New York. And, since “diversity and inclusion” is the catechism of credentialed professionals, Biden will be unleashing a tranche of wokeified executive orders. Rumor has it he’ll be nominating the first woman to head the Pentagon—which will no doubt be a mental comfort to Upper East Siders who will pop Dom over the shattering of another glass ceiling while not caring a hang about forever war.
Meanwhile, the middle-class continues to have the screws of lockdowns and COVID proscriptions put to them. Small businesses are closing at a rate that might make Lenin blush at his own revolution. Yet Biden, who used “Scranton vs. Park Avenue” as his campaign slogan, is cutting the petit bourgeois at the knees for the sake of Super ZIPers.
But at least those lucky few with puppetry M.F.A.s will see their debt quartered, or even halved. Taxpayers can rest easy knowing their contributions will help fund the next Punch and Judy show. Too bad, it’ll be their hands that are pulped in the process.