“Let me say for the billionth time: Reporters don’t root for a side. Period.”
I’m going to need to hear it a billion and one times, Mr. C.C. of CNN. The lesson just isn’t sticking. Can you blame me? Your former colleague is wiggling his Twitter phalanxes over the perennial political conflict: prudence versus greed, responsibility versus cupidity, rule of law versus gimme-gimme-gimme.
President Biden’s recent student-debt jubilee—OK, not full-fledged forgiveness, but a wee jubilee—was met with the usual political bickering. A nanny-state giveaway! A sop to the higher-ed racket! It doesn’t go far enough for the masses of poor, put-upon graduates giving themselves carpal tunnel shaking out apple macchiatos for office drones! Forcing Johnny Taxpayer to stand treat for Aiden’s (pronouns: e/em/eir) gender studies degree! A blatant vote-buy of the arrear entitled! Mencken’s wit manifest!
Admittedly, these dull fusses all contain a smidge of truth. Biden’s partial debt-wipe is a frail attempt at damming a surging river with a handful of riprap pebbles. Now college administrators have more of an incentive to raise tuition costs—as if high inflation wasn’t enough of an excuse.
Then there’s the whole abuse of authority angle, where the President exploited part of a 2003 GWOT law meant to assist vets and active-duty troops and didn’t bother getting congressional approval as necessitated in Article of the… HEY! Wake up! We’re talking about the President trampling the Constitution for political benefit! This is important, dammit. The last guy was impeached over a similar ploy. And look, a minor writer at National Review is demanding Biden be booted because “[t]here is not a single person in America who believes that what President Biden has done is legal.”
Really? Not one, single, solitary person? There are entire Zip codes full of loyal progs who would forthrightly claim Biden clubbing seals on the South Lawn is legally on the level.
All that is beside my point. A legal challenge to Biden’s crossing the book is likely. The courts, from the district stratum all the way to the marbled magisterium on First Street, will weigh in. Therein lies the rub: will our judicial system really re-saddle grads with debt they already wrote off?
“Trying to imagine just how angry people will be if the $10K or $20K in student debt cancelation promised by Biden is blocked by GOP/conservative efforts through the courts,” tweeted Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein, with less observation than glee at the prospect. There are numerous fallacies embedded in this conjecture by a reporter for the nation’s most miry paper. First, a Democrat-appointed judge is almost as likely to view Biden’s debt slash unconstitutional given its Grand Canyon stretch of an unfitting law. Second, Biden’s “promise” means nothing. He’s on record of doubting his office’s ability to *poof* away student debt. Lastly, political power buy-offs run roughshod over the legal neutrality principle upstanding journos like Stein take pride in defending.
In other words: Stein is giving away the game. The President knows what he’s doing is already on shaky legal ground. Legal scholars, some who generally support tuition debt relief, admit Biden can’t win in court. That makes Biden’s dun-downgrade decree a challenge to the very system: the chief executive dispensing party favors for votes over faithfully enforcing the law. Third world uprisings have been sparked over less. The triumphalist tone within Stein’s assertion—the nah, nah, nah, you can’t stop it! *Akanbe*.—comes off as a threat. Enforce the Constitution and risk riots! Come on, my reserved A1 copy-block triple dog dares you!
Democracy dies in blackmail indeed. President Biden is counting on Stein’s admonition and others like it to influence any legal injunctions against his move. The tactic should sound familiar: it’s exactly what the Administration did last year with extending the eviction moratorium. Even then, Biden admitted his duration drag was illegal, and executively elongating it only bought time. Now it’s the same chicanery, different dole dispensation.
Even so, Biden just might prevail. Senator Ted Cruz admits it will be difficult “finding a plaintiff who the courts will conclude has standing” in a hypothetical case. Most student debt is already held by the Department of Education, making forgiveness a simple arithmetic wash. If a case does start wending its way through the judicial branch, you can bet journalists like Stein will start pounding out sob stories of an unfair financial yoke faster than an Amish butter churner on uppers. The headlines write themselves: “Couple helped by Biden loan forgiveness could lose mortgage if forced to repay”; “Will a conservative SCOTUS risk the wrath of millions of angry undergrads?”; “Justice Brett Kavanaugh racked up mountains of debt—now he’s set to relock countless graduates in debtors prison”; “A Salon special: ‘I thought I was financially free to pursue my queer pottery career, but now a Republican judge is making me pay my already scratched Oberlin debt”.
Not to say the Supreme Court is full of mob-swayed ninnies. Our secular clerics overturned a half-century of precedent in Dobbs v. Jackson but two months ago. The cost was non-stop protests and death threats outside justices’ residences. Will the Court have the fortitude to slap petulant and aggrieved degree-holders with a financial penalty, in defense to a founding parchment increasingly loathed in public life? Will the “reliance interests” of borrowers win out over the separation of powers?
Every political philosopher has recognized the danger of democracy devolving into a solipsistic free-for-all. To quote the much-quoted Scottish historian Alexander Fraser Tytler, “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.”
Biden’s folding to party pressure on student debt should default on his pledge to restore normalcy. But employing Washington’s capacious subvention dispenser to reward voters looks increasingly “normal”—at least until the Treasury goes belly up.
In American elections, to the victor go the spoils. And not without a little encouragement from the press corps. From Andy Jackson’s mouth to Jeff Bezos‘s ears.