After watching last week’s State of the Union address, the contrast between President Barack Obama and Gov. Scott Walker couldn’t be clearer. While Obama spent his time calling for legislation to help students and middle class families, Walker continued to ignore both, pandering instead to far right presidential campaign donors and Iowa caucus voters.
In his State of the Union address, Obama highlighted the nation’s improving economy and called for “middle class economics” to ensure that all Americans have a fair shot at success. As Obama pointed out, the state of the union is strong; 2014 had the best job growth since the Clinton administration, consumer confidence is at its highest since 2007 and more and more Americans are getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Despite this, Obama recognized that many Americans are still struggling to make ends meet. As a result, the president proposed policies to strengthen and expand the middle class, such as tax cuts and an increase in the minimum wage, which polls show 76 percent of Wisconsinites support.
Obama proved to Wisconsin students that he still has our back by making college affordability a centerpiece of his address. His plan to make community college free for two years would allow hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites to gain the skills they need to succeed. This is especially significant considering by 2020, two-thirds of all jobs will require some kind of higher education.
A state-level version of the plan has already proven incredibly successful in Tennessee (a state which is not exactly a bastion of liberalism), with 90 percent of high school seniors deciding to enroll. The president also called on Congress to finally work to reduce the burden of student loan debt, which has restricted our generation’s economic freedom and made college unaffordable for far too many Americans. If implemented, free community college and student debt reform will be investments in the future — an educated nation will be better able to innovate and compete in the global economy.
At the heart of Obama’s vision for the next year is the American ideal that if you work hard, you can get ahead. It’s a no-brainer that every student, regardless of income, should get the chance at a quality education as long as they are willing to put in the effort. Obama showed us that he understands the concerns of the middle class and recognizes the importance of making college affordable.
The State of the State address, on the other hand, made it abundantly clear how low “middle class economics” and college affordability are on Walker’s list of priorities. His speech was low on policy specifics and high on broad presidential campaign rhetoric, with Walker dodging any discussion of Wisconsin’s poor job creation numbers and $283 million deficit. Despite the passage of 13 referendums around the state to raise the minimum wage, Walker still strongly opposes any increase and predictably did not mention it at all.
Although student debt has reached crisis proportions in Wisconsin, Walker continued to refuse to address the problem. Unlike Walker, Wisconsin students can’t afford to ignore the issue. We’re currently 10th in the country in student debt, with 753,000 Wisconsinites holding student loans. The average Wisconsin student graduates with $22,400 in loans, paying almost $400 a month for roughly 19 years. If only Walker spent as much time talking to students in Wisconsin as he does talking to Republican campaign donors in Iowa.
Unfortunately, it’s clear that Walker’s priorities aren’t here in Wisconsin. As Walker’s presidential campaign rhetoric and jabs at 2016 rivals in his address made clear, we’re stuck with a part-time governor.
Above all, Obama and Walker’s respective speeches showed two very different visions for the future. In Obama’s vision, every American will have the chance to get ahead through hard work. Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin students will be able to attend college regardless of whether they were born wealthy or working class.
In Walker’s vision, those who are struggling, like the 753,000 Wisconsinites with student debt, will be left to fend for themselves. The concerns of middle class Wisconsinites will take a backseat to the governor’s presidential ambitions. Walker clearly wants to be giving his own State of the Union address in a few years, but as long as he continues to ignore the needs of students and middle class Americans, he shouldn’t count on our support.
Joe Waldman ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in political science. He is the communications director for the College Democrats of Wisconsin.