ANDREW BURSTEIN AND NANCY ISENBERG, Salon
"The only security of all is in a free press.” Thomas Jefferson wrote these words to the Marquis de Lafayette at the age of 80. The reason Jefferson lauded a free press was that he wished, in tense political times, for the U.S. to function as a deliberative democracy, in which an increasingly better-educated citizenry monitored the policy decisions of its elected representatives and judged whether or not they deserved to remain in office.
A better-educated citizenry. That was Jefferson’s mantra, and it should be ours, too. Republicans in Congress have claimed Jefferson as their man, time and again quoting him as a champion of small government. One of their favorites lines is, “If it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution,” it would be “taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing.” The Jefferson they do not pay attention to is the one whose lifelong dream was a well-funded public education system — the Jefferson who spent his post-presidential retirement years creating a beautiful public university in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jefferson asked no less a figure than U.S. Attorney General William Wirt, notably the son of a Maryland tavern-keeper, to be its president. He understand that personal growth and national strength were best served by lifting up ordinary folks.
This week, the Senate debated student loan rates, which are now at a comfortable 3.4 percent and are set to double on July 1, if nothing is done. In his most recent college tour, President Obama focused on the endangered interest rate, fully aware that Republicans would have to support the Democratic initiative, if only to avoid embarrassment. Their sleight of hand was in proposing to come up with the $6 billion by removing money from preventive healthcare programs. That, then, is how the House Republican majority voted a week earlier to pass a one-year extension of the 3.4 percent rate. Democrats had urged cutting subsidies to oil and gas companies instead of raiding health care funds. When that wouldn’t fly, the alternative became an increase in the Social Security payroll taxes of the already wealthy. The White House vowed a veto after the House measure passed. It’s now the Senate’s turn. Congress will have to reach some sort of compromise, because neither party wishes to be seen as anti-student in an election year. [MORE]