Without Addressing Student Debt, GOP Will Lose Young People

ByIan Gutierrez

I might be the only conservative at the New School, New York City’s well-respected and famously leftist university that has recently become a center of Occupy Wall Street activity. At the protest’s outset, I was critical; many of the Occupiers were spouting violent and radical messages that I found (and continue to find) abhorrent. Still, many others were my fellow students, so I tried hard to listen to the things they had to say. While I hate admitting that I have anything in common with the Occupiers, I gradually found that I did.

Debt. A lot of it. I currently owe a combined $75,000 to two universities. In principal, I do not mind taking on debt; the colleges that I have attended have afforded me the opportunity to pursue my dreams.

But this amount of debt is too high. At the age of 25, my grandparents had already put down a substantial payment on their first home. As a 23-year-old, I can scarcely hope to do these things until I’m 30. Yet I, like my peers in academia, wish to do something meaningful with my life, and it is common knowledge that a college degree is the ticket to prosperity.

How shameful that young people must buy their way into the American promise at such a high cost.

Unfortunately, the Republican presidential candidates could not care less about student debt. Just look at Mitt Romney's economic plan: Despite having more policy proposals than the rest of the field combined, the former governor’s plan has only this to say about the blight of opportunities facing today’s college graduate:

“A 21-year-old today fresh out of college is facing very different conditions from those in place when I graduated. Jobs for recent graduates are simply not there. … No small part of the answer has to do with the wrenches the Obama administration has thrown into the economy.”

While blaming the Obama administration makes for good politicking with older voters, youth know that these problems have been in the making for decades.

I do not know what effect the Occupy movement will have on the upcoming election, but I know this — and Republican presidential contenders, listen up: If you care about the future of conservative ideas in America, do not dismiss Occupy Wall Street.

The Republican field has devoted much energy to a quixotic pursuit of flat tax schemes that most voters do not support, but has wholly ignored the mountain of debt that imposes a draconian tax burden on young adults in its own right.

For young adults in this country — liberal and conservative alike — the American Dream is on trial.

Young Americans can do anything when they’re given the opportunity. Opportunity — this is the promise of American conservatism.

Not flat tax schemes. Not “personhood.” Not “birtherism.”

Free markets. American entrepreneurialism. Opportunity.

If Republicans fail to acknowledge the problems that youth face, they will default on the conservative movement’s promise to this country. They will slam the door in the face of those people who can carry the conservative message of prosperity into the future — the next generation. Without a better alternative, a future generation of indebted voters will find recourse in the only solutions they know — redistribution and statism.

Today’s Occupiers will be tomorrow’s middle-aged voting population. Even if they climb their way out of the college debt hole, will they forget that conservatives left them for dead when times were tough in 2011? Just because today’s older voters are conservative does not mean that tomorrow’s will be. For what its worth, I might not only be the only conservative at the New School — I might be the last.

If the student debtor class sees no reason why it should vote for a Republican come November 2012 — well, frankly, that’s the Republican Party’s own damn fault

Young Americans face unprecedented challenges. I wish, as the Occupiers do, that politicians on every end of the political spectrum would take the student debt crisis as seriously as it deserves be taken.

To Mr. Romney and the rest of the Republican field: I am a young conservative. Please address my concerns.

But don’t do it to get my vote: Do it for the future of our country.

Photo Credit: weeklydig