Media Blog

In the Media’s Mind, And Michelle Obama’s, a Loan Is Not a Favor

One of the odd things about Michelle Obama is her repeated insistence that paying off student loans was one of the important financial hardships of her life. Media heads tend to nod sympathetically, perhaps with memories of Columbia j-school bills dancing about in their crania.

Cry me the mighty Mississippi.
Does it not occur to anybody that when somebody loans you money, they are doing you a favor? Particularly when they loan you money on easy terms at concessionary interest rates, as is commonly the case with student loans. And we define hardship as having to pay them back?
You know what’s a lot harder than borrowing money to go to school? Working your way through.

Obama’s latest ad repeats an often-stated claim, saying he “worked his way through college and Harvard Law.” We know Obama took out loans to get himself through school. But the campaign provided information on just two jobs Obama had in those years, and they were both in the summer.
… The only back-up the campaign provided for this claim was a quote from Obama’s book “Dreams from My Father” having to do with a construction job he had one summer while he was in college, and an article mentioning his job as a summer associate one year at a big Chicago law firm. We asked campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor if Obama held jobs during the school year, or other summer jobs, but he said only, “He had the two jobs I told you about.” Unless Obama had a good bit more employment than his spokesman was able to describe for us, it’s a real stretch to claim he “worked his way” through school.

Not exactly manning the flame-broiler at Burger King, was he?
A college education is worth a lot of money. A graduate education, particularly at law school, is worth much more on top of that. We think nothing of borrowing money to pay for a car which will be worth little or nothing in a few years, or of taking out a 30-year loan to buy a house. Why the boo-hooing about student loans? Those loans are what make Mrs. Obama able to earn more than $300,000 a year. WSJ has some perspective:

Mrs. Obama talks frequently about the Obama family’s financial struggles, including paying off student loans. She was earning more than $300,000 a year when she took a leave of absence from her University of Chicago hospital post. She received a raise to $316,000 from $121,000 in 2005, shortly after her husband was elected to the Senate.

If you can’t easily keep up with your student-loan payments and arugula bills on that kind of cash, you’re doing something wrong. There’s nothing wrong with borrowing money to go to school. It’s a good investment. But it would be great if we’d all keep in mind that when somebody loans you money to go to law school, they’re helping you out.


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