Politics & Policy

The Iowa Dad Is Wrong. Paying People Back Who Had Paid for College Wouldn’t Be Fair Enough.

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to the media in Washington, D.C., January 23, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
What he’s implicitly saying is that his choice to be financially responsible has cost him things that money cannot replace. 

During Elizabeth Warren’s campaign stop in Iowa on Monday, a man asked the presidential hopeful whether her student-loan debt-forgiveness plan would also reimburse people who had already paid for school.

“My daughter is getting out of school,” he told Warren, while standing in her (what else!) selfie line. “I’ve saved all my money.”

“She doesn’t have any student loans,” he continued. “Am I going to get my money back?”

Warren immediately replied: “Of course not.”

The man, unsurprisingly, was not satisfied with her answer.

“So you’re going to pay for people who didn’t save any money and those of us who did the right thing get screwed?” he said.

“My buddy had fun, bought a car, and went on all the vacations, I saved my money,” he continued. “He makes more than I did. I worked a double shift.”

The man then accused Warren of “laughing” at him, repeating that his family would “get screwed” for having done “the right thing” — before Warren ultimately shut him down, saying: “I appreciate your time.”

Now, I don’t know this guy. What I do know, though, is that he’s absolutely right about one thing: If Warren is going to pay for people to go to college, then a way to make that more fair to the people who have already paid would be to pay those people back.

I say “more fair,” by the way, because even if she did plan (to use her power to force the taxpayers) to pay people back, it still wouldn’t be entirely “fair” to many of those people.

In fact, this man’s own suggestion for how to make things fair would still leave him (in his words) getting “screwed.”

When he references the sacrifices that he and his family had to make to pay for his daughter’s college, what he’s implicitly saying is that his choice to be financially responsible has cost him things that money cannot replace.

I can relate.

Back in April of 2019 — when Warren first unveiled her brilliant plan to make college “free” — I wrote about some of the sacrifices that I myself had to make to avoid shouldering a debt that I knew I couldn’t repay.

See, at the end of my senior year of college — which, as I noted in my column, I paid for “mostly through the combination of a modest loan, working, and busting my ass hard enough to earn a full-tuition scholarship, with only a little bit of help from my parents for the first semester only” — I found out that I’d been accepted to Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism. I was absolutely thrilled by this; it had been my dream since childhood to attend this exact school and learn everything I needed to know to pursue the career I’d always wanted in broadcast journalism.

My plan was to move to Los Angeles for a summer internship at Fox News before heading to New York City to attend Columbia in the fall. Then, I realized I’d never be able to repay the $80,000 loan I’d have to take out to attend my dream school.

I was already enrolled, but I withdrew.

It was a tough decision — and the consequences were even tougher. I didn’t want to give up on my dream, but I realized that the only way I could afford to learn broadcasting was through unpaid internships (while, of course, also working to pay my bills).

I went months without a single day off. Several days per week, I was waking up at 4 a.m. and not getting home until after 11 at night. The only time I wasn’t working throughout these long days was when I was driving from one gig to another. My later jobs as a waitress felt like a posh paradise after my first one at Boston Market.

I lived in an apartment building so dilapidated that you could effortlessly break into the front door with a credit card, so poorly run that I’d have no water without warning, and so downright filthy that I once had scabies and fleas in the same week. I slept on a yoga mat for weeks because I couldn’t afford a bed, until a friend gave me a couch that he didn’t want anymore, until I had to throw the couch away because of the, you know, flea problem. At one point, I could no longer afford my car and had to use a combination of the city’s (joke of a) public-transit system and a bicycle to get around. Then, I couldn’t afford that infested dumpster-apartment, either, and had to find somewhere else to stay for free.

Unless Elizabeth Warren can go back in time and put me in a Columbia classroom during the time I spent cleaning those Boston Market bathrooms, her plan wouldn’t be “fair.” Unless she can give me the hours of my life back that I spent sitting alone covered in scabies cream, her plan wouldn’t be “fair.” The angry Iowa father’s plan, although well-intentioned, wouldn’t be “fair” to me. Elizabeth Warren can’t “pay me back” for a loan that I decided against taking out — a decision that I’d made precisely because I did not expect that anyone else would pay it back for me.

Many people have made sacrifices to continue their education, or to allow their children to continue theirs. Others have made sacrifices by taking a path that didn’t include continuing, because they could not afford to do so. None of these are things that could ever be replaced with cash.

In other words? No — I don’t think that I should have to pay for someone else making an irresponsible decision when they could have made a responsible one. What’s more, talking about this issue only in terms of money truly minimizes the fact that, really, it’s about so much more.

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