Will Obama Lose the Boomerang Generation?
Cool,” an ad released late last month by the Republican Super PAC American Crossroads, is an interesting and deeply crass artifact of the attempt to peel the youth vote away from Barack Obama. Like a lot of the Crossroads ads, it has a noisy, dumbed-down portentousness—it feels like a preview for a low-budget action movie. Over a vaguely hip-hop loop and chants of “Obama; Obama!” the ad shows the President’s recent forays into popular culture—slow-jamming with Jimmy Fallon, doing a little shuffle dance with Ellen DeGeneres, singing a snippet of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” and referring to Kanye West as a “jackass.” He’s also shown drinking what appears to be a glass of Guinness (someone bring the young people their smelling salts!) and, in several shots, wearing sunglasses. Suggestion: media-addled millennials are ignorant of issues; elected Obama only on the cool factor.
Then the color ad turns to black-and-white—specifically to pictures of sad, wan young people in black and white—and the messages: “But after 4 years of a celebrity President…1 in 2 recent college grads are jobless or unemployed. 85% moving back in with their parents. Student loan debt exceeds one trillion dollars.”
This is where things get less crass, and more interesting. On the facts, we can give Crossroads two out of the three. The college-debt figure of a trillion appears, unfortunately, to be solid. It comes courtesy of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, and has been cited many places, without challenge or correction, including in the Times in its big takeout Sunday on college loans. In any case, college debt is clearly a looming crisis. Whether it can be pinned on any one person, or even administration, is another matter. Like the housing bubble that it resembles in scope and multifariousness, it has many authors: spiralling demands for fancy campus trappings; big compensation packages for college presidents; families taking out more loans than they can realistically pay back; slashed state budgets; long-term economic shifts that have made a college degree more and more necessary for professional success and a concomitant decline in well-paying blue-collar jobs that don’t require a degree. How Obama proposes to fix this mess is something he can be judged on.