Salon political columnist Thomas Frank spoke with his dream candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in a hard-hitting interview that posed tough questions like, "Is there anything someone can do about all the things we're describing, short of being president?" Wow, he went there.
To his credit, Frank did go after President Obama for being a "disappointment" on the issues Frank cares about: financial regulation, prosecuting Wall Street bankers, etc. Warren agreed that Obama let Wall Street off the hook too easily, though she did praise the president for getting her consumer protection agency approved.
The rest of the interview consists of Frank telling Warren how brilliant she is and Warren spouting off her usual faux-populist screed. (Reminder: Warren is in favor of the Export-Import Bank.) The conversation eventually turned to higher education affordability:
Is it time to do something about college tuition?
Absolutely. Yes it is. But let's get the right frame on this. Because I think this is really important, and it's the right question to ask. But start with this: three out of four kids in college are in public universities. A generation ago, state support for public universities was strong enough that three out of four dollars to educate those kids came from taxpayers and the family had to make up the difference for the fourth dollar. Today, that has basically reversed itself. That is, that the states are putting up, just generally across the country, about one out of four dollars and the families have got to come up with the other three out of four dollars. This matters because it is the state universities that are the backbone of access to higher education for middle class families, and I think that's the place you have to start the conversation. I'm not going to let anybody off the hook, but I think it's the critical part of the conversation. And I say this — it's like I talk about in the book — this is personal for me. I graduated from a commuter college that cost $50 a semester in Texas.
Warren is technically correct: Public funding for higher education has generally declined across the country. But large state universities are still raking in cash. Warren's own solution to the college affordability program—massive loan subsidization—is one of the main reasons the price is still climbing. Universities can keep jacking up the price as long as the government keeps finding ways to help students pay in the short term while concealing the true cost from them until they are already on the hook for it.
Doesn't Warren want to go after rich CEOs (i.e., college presidents) at corrupt crony corporations (i.e., public universities) who extort consumers (i.e., students)? Only in the private sector, it seems. When it comes to higher education affordability, Warren is very much a part of the problem.
Full Salon interview here.