U.S. President Barack Obama has reappeared as candidate Barack Obama, much as he was four years ago when millions of young Americans came out to support him and effectively put him over-the-top as the favorite choice. But 2012 and 2008 are very different times, and Obama knows that. Then, the economy was different, jobs were more easily attainable and more easily secured, and advanced education (post public high school) was cheaper – all issues which worry the so-called “20-something voters.” Obama is letting them know he’s back and has four more years to give.
But there are also millions of new voters, many of them college and university students, aged 18-21, who weren’t eligible to vote in the last election. Come this November, they will be casting their first ballot. And they are ripe for the picking. Obama knows he needs them to turn out at polling stations in key states if he is going to win. And he’s doing his best to appeal to them in their language and style, as he did before.
On Tuesday night, Obama did what he does best: performed. Speaking before students at the University of North Carolina, who are facing a possible hike in interest rates on their student loans, Obama gave an exclusive interview to late night host Jimmy Fallon. But Obama didn’t just address the topic of student loan rates in a traditional sense, choosing instead (with Fallon’s assistance) to “slow jam” on the issue.
The topic here is the U.S. Federal Stafford Loan. The interest rate on the loans is scheduled to double on July 1st from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, unless Congress acts to extend the lower rate. According to the White House, about 7 million undergraduate students would be affected, raising annual education costs for each an average of $1,000.
According to the Stafford Loan website:
Stafford Loans are federal student loans made available to college and university students to supplement personal and family resources, scholarships, grants, and work-study. Nearly all students are eligible to receive Stafford loans regardless of credit. Stafford loans may be subsidized by the U.S. Government or unsubsidized depending on the student’s need.
Some 15 million Americans are still paying back Stafford Loans (including yours truly). Two-thirds of those in debt are under the age of 30. Many choose to delay payment as long as possible, since the money is relatively cheap. For example, the rates on mortgages – considered by many to have reached an all-time-low – are still often higher than the current rate on Stafford Loans. So if one has the cash, it is wiser to pay off the mortgage than to pay off the Stafford Loan, in theory.
By most accounts, the education debt – while technically a debt – could be considered to be a healthy one. It allows young people to go to university and to earn a degree, which effectively allows them to become more employable and thus earn higher salaries in the future. This system has allowed millions of Americans to better themselves in a way that many believe makes higher education affordable, and reflects the important role a central government can play.
Republican presidential hopeful (and likely candidate) Mitt Romney has also backed the Congressional extension of the low rates, but he has done so vaguely and his views have come out almost as an after-thought. (Technically, it was a before-thought, as he rushed to make a comment about the loans right as Obama was heading out the door to North Carolina.) And by all accounts, his positioning on the topic, while in line with Obama’s and thus with most American university students, was not presented in a culturally-hip way that might appeal to students and reassure them.
That continues to be one of Romney’s key problems: many Americans can’t and don’t relate to him. He is seen as a corporate elitist and a stiff-necked politician. In recent months, his party (though admittedly not Romney himself) has managed to offend both women and Latino voters, two key demographics that rank right up there with young voters. Romney’s team, instead, is focusing on appealing to Christian voters, a large and important demographic, but many of whom still question whether Romney himself is actually a Christian. (Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, known more commonly by the once-derogatory but now widely-used term “Mormon.”) Half a year from election day, Romney is still trying to convince Christian Americans that he’s just one of them. It doesn’t help that many conservative Christians are suspicious of the Mormon Church, viewing some of its beliefs as post-Christian and borderline blasphemous. And many liberals mock the Mormon Church all together, as reinforced by the most popular and sold-out show on Broadway for the past year, “The Book of Mormon.”
Some of the lyrics read:
I believe that the Lord, God, created the universe.
I believe that He sent His only Son to die for my sins.
And I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America
I am a Mormon,
And a Mormon just believes…
I believe that Satan has a hold of you
I believe that the Lord, God, has sent me here
And I believe that in 1978, God changed his mind about black people!
You can be a Mormon..
A Mormon who just believes!
I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob.
I believe that Jesus has his own planet as well.
And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.
If you believe, the Lord will reveal it.
And you’ll know it’s all true. You’ll just feel it.
You’ll be a Mormon
And, by gosh!
A Mormon just believes!
But humor and pop culture aside, the election will put before Americans two men with two different visions of how this country should be run. It may take more than a slow jam to turn them on, and more than a musical to turn them off.