Photo Credit: Rayna Foster
Editor’s Note: Molly Niedbala is a Sophomore at The University of Michigan double majoring in political science and philosophy, with a minor in interdisciplinary astronomy.
ANN ARBOR, MICH.– At two in the morning on January 26th, a group of friends and I joined a line that had snaked around an entire city block. About seven hundred people, the vast majority of them students, had already arrived at the scene to camp out overnight. Several thousand more would join us in braving sub-freezing temperatures over the next few hours, but tickets to our president’s upcoming speech would not be released until nine o’clock. Blankets, pillows, and pizza slices in hand, my friends and I agreed that it was worth it.
As a first-time voter among thousands of others like me, I could not help but be struck by my community’s incredible degree of enthusiasm. Barack Obama resonates with my demographic in a way that very few contemporary politicians can rival – and after listening to his speech yesterday morning, I think I can guess why that is.
Obama focused on energy independence and research, on both reducing the deficit and sustaining economic growth, and on the importance of widespread access to higher education. Behind him was a massive billboard that read “An America Built to Last,” and in front of him was an audience capable of envisioning precisely what that America would look like. Well-educated youth are not ones to be fooled by shortsighted political mottos and punch lines – and Barack Obama seemed to know that too well. On Friday he spoke to the future, and the future received him approvingly.
Young people recognize that the way we operate in this country is unsustainable. Unlike much of the political establishment, we are not entrenched in an ideology that values short-term profit above all. One of the biggest applause lines of the morning was when the president argued for a focus on “clean, renewable energy.”
His points about economic sustainability were similarly well received. Those of us who have just recently come of voting age have done so with the realization that the previous generation has essentially left us to fend for ourselves. We are more than privy to the reality that if our country’s massive deficit is not addressed immediately, we will eventually be saddled with either massive tax hikes, debilitating spending cuts, or a messy combination of both. We are also keenly aware of our personal debt crises; Obama reminded us that in 2010, college graduates who took out loans left school with an average of twenty-four thousand dollars of debt. We nevertheless agreed that getting a solid education is the only way to compete in a fast-changing global economy.
The president acknowledged this tension with characteristic flair and precision. He noted his administration’s part in both eliminating the middleman in student loan allocation and capping loan repayments at ten percent of monthly income. He asked Congress to extend the tuition tax credit and to increase the number of work-study jobs. He called for a “Race to the Top” with regard to college affordability: the states and colleges that keep tuition low and provide good educational value should receive greater federal aid; those that neglect to do so should be penalized. According to Obama, widespread access to higher education is an “economic imperative” for both individual and national growth – and more than that, it is a characteristic feature of our country.
These things do not, however, pay for themselves – a fact that my peers and I are all too conscious of. Research into clean energy, subsidization of the auto industry, federal student aid, the construction of national infrastructure – all of them come at a price. I nevertheless believe that young people generally agree that that “price” is well worth it – even if it can only be reasonably borne by a select group of Americans. We recognize that in order for our country to produce the best and the brightest, we must provide everyone with the basic resources that they need to be socially mobile. If this requires that millionaires pay a higher tax rate, many of us are okay with that. We are okay with doing what needs to be done to build an America that will continue to succeed.
Obama put it this way: “Do we want to keep tax cuts for folks like me who don’t need them, or do we want to invest in the things that will help us in the long run? We’ve got to choose… we can’t do both.” A basic understanding of economics is enough to realize that if the rich keep their tax cuts, “one of two things is going to happen.” Either the deficit will increase or somebody who can’t afford it – a struggling entrepreneur, a student, a veteran – is going to have to “foot the bill.” We are young and we are smart. We know that this is not political rhetoric, nor class warfare, nor crazy, liberal mumbo jumbo; it’s just true.
We resonate with the message of our president because we recognize that he thinks long-term. Not only does he realize that his reelection will rely largely on the youth vote; he realizes that the future wellbeing of our country relies on addressing the needs of our youth. That means providing us with the resources we need to succeed and doing so in a way that will not come back to haunt us. At Michigan we spend our days learning what we need to do to live and succeed in a future of our choosing. We find our conclusions echoed in the voice of Barack Obama, and so on Friday he reaffirmed our support.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Molly Niedbala and do not represent the views of The Virgin Voting Project or its officers.