Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Can Republicans criticize anything without invoking the Soviet Union?

At The Corner, Sen. Lamar Alexander criticizes a new law that cuts private banks out as middlemen in the student loan process. He's wrong on a lot of the particulars, but the conclusion of his argument is really perplexing:

“It changes the kind of country we live in more than it changes American education,” Alexander concludes. “The American system of higher education has become the best in the world because of choice and competition. Unlike K-12, we give money to students and let them choose among schools, having the choice of private lenders or government lenders. That’s been the case for 20 years. Having no choice, and the government running it all, looks more like a Soviet-style, European, and even Asian higher-education model where the government manages everything. In most of those countries, they’ve been falling over themselves to reject their state-controlled authoritarian universities, which are much worse than ours, and move toward the American model which emphasizes choice, competition, and peer-reviewed research. In that sense, we’re now stepping back from our choice-competition culture, which has given us not just some of the best universities in the world, but almost all of them.”

This is really misleading. What the new legislation does, really, is change the mechanism by which students receive the money that they still use to choose among the schools they want to attend. You can argue that it's wrong to cut out private industry from the lending process, but Alexander is hinting here -- without saying it, exactly, only offering a misleading juxtaposition -- that students will somehow be restricted in their educational choices. And that's not at all true. Not even a little bit.

And to be realistic about the market forces here, it's not as though the government is keeping banks from lending money to students. What's happening here is that the new law keeps banks from profiting from the government lending money to students. This is not an anti-market move; this is a cutting out an expensive middleman move: the result is that more money will be available to help more students go to school. It's using government money more efficiently, and isn't that what we all say we want?

But Alexander's critique raises a real question: Why can't Republicans criticize Barack Obama without invoking the Soviet Union at nearly every turn? They do understand the difference between nationalizing all private industry with an accompanying program of killing/jailing/exiling everybody who disagrees and changing the method by which U.S. government money gets to students, don't they?

Don't they?

It's like I said yesterday about Norman Podhoretz: They probably do understand the difference, and they're just saying things like this for political effect -- in which case they're liars who deserve to be driven as far from power as possible. Or if they don't, they're too dumb to be close to the reins of power. I suspect Alexander and his Stalin-talking-point ilk are lying hacks. But again: I'm open to the possibilities.

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