Conservatives are big mad the military might have to quit preying on broke kids

Complaining that student loan forgiveness might hurt enlistments is not the rhetorical win they think it is.

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When President Biden unveiled his long-awaited student loan forgiveness plan last week, his good-not-great proposal was met with nervous jubilation from debt-holders — matched only by the rancor and self-pity radiating from the “I suffered and so should you” corners of the right-wing fever swamp. Still, despite the grumblings from conservatives perfectly willing to have their loans forgiven — just not anyone else’s — the plan has largely been seen as a significant achievement for an administration slowly getting the hang of actually, y’know, accomplishing things.

Given the undeniable public hunger for some form of student loan forgiveness, and the impotent hollowness of their “it’s just not fair” critiques, some conservatives have pivoted to an even more extreme line of attack against the Biden plan: that it’s a threat to national security.

First came Indiana GOP Rep. Jim Banks, who wasted little time drawing a direct line between the debt forgiveness program and the ongoing struggle to convince people to sign their lives away to the United States government.

As many rightfully pointed out, Banks’s criticism here sort of gives up the game when it comes to the “military’s greatest recruitment tool,” implying that enlisting depends on preying on the financial vulnerabilities of potential recruits for whom armed service is one of the sole paths to a post-high school education.

Banks isn’t alone, either. Here’s Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall:

Florida Rep. Michael Walz, a colonel in the Army National Guard, was even more descriptive in his complaint, painting a picture of selfish, coddled Zoomers who would prefer to go to college than “crawl in the mud” and risk their lives.

Already, conservative news outlets are picking up these narrative threads being dropped by Republican lawmakers. Those pushing the existing trope within the right-wing media space that low military recruitment is a Biden-Democrat-Socialist plot to undermine the United States have already begun to latch onto loan forgiveness as the latest anti-American iteration thereof.

To be clear, there is a very real military recruitment shortage happening right now, and there are any number of extremely justifiable reasons why people do — or don’t — want to sign up for the armed services. But this hand-wringing and pearl-clutching from conservative politicians hoping to score political points against a largely popular plan that will have a measurably good impact isn’t actually contributing to that debate. It’s just a tacit admission that the Pentagon might not be able to prey on poverty quite like it used to. We should at least appreciate Banks and the rest for their honesty.