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A Truly Indebted Nation

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

If all politics is local, then local problems can illustrate the national conscience and need for principled consensus.

Thursday morning, and a colleague in shock informed our work group that Houston, Texas police officers were arresting 1,200 people for delinquent student loan payments. Today, 40—40!—million Americans are still paying for that college education which should have paid for itself after years of study and a good job that followed.


That Houston drama is red meat for the liberal media, to seduce readers to vote for another liberal candidate promising free everything. Another point: debtor’s prison is unconstitutional.

Here’s the full story.

Yes, Paul Aker owed money to Alma Mater Prairie View A & M (All Your Money?). The $1,500 ballooned into $5,700 because of non-payment (D & B, dead beat) after 30 years.

The authorities had called Aker; he blew them off. They posted notices on his door; Aker ignored them, even called one of them “a joke”. Finally, two US Marshals arrived at Aker’s home, and the frightened debtor ran to back of his house, shouting: “I’ve got a gun!” Law enforcement back-up showed up to help the marshals. They cuffed the delinquent (pun intended) and took him up to jail. After a few hours in lock-up, Aker was released.  A judge sternly rebuked him for non-payment, ordered him to pay back the loans and also cover the marshals’ costs.

What was Aker arrested for? It had nothing to do with the student loan: “Aker … booked for disobeying a court order and released — but not before getting a scolding from the judge.” Lesson learned: If a judge tells you to come to court, show up!

The media culture chose to play the victim card, a good guy-bad guy narrative that shames law enforcement (in Texas, even better!) against a black man (if you didn’t notice, or perhaps you already guessed that Aker was black). Voila: the story of jailed debtor over student loan payments is too good to ignore. And it fits the liberal talking points so well, too. Any debt that you and I have is someone else’s fault.


Of course the wider narrative which has folded out of this law enforcement fiasco calls attention to the loan: “He was arrested for not paying up!” No. Aker was aching for an arrest when he repeatedly refused to show up, and even taunted law enforcement to come get him.

Now, the wider context on student loan debt.

This issue is weighing on some voters’ minds. Millennials are saddled with college loans, disappointed by smarmy promises from college recruiters and high schools counselors that a four-year degree was worth the wait (and debt). Yes, there are teeming masses of student loan debtors, yearning to breathe free. Bankruptcy is not an option, prohibited by federal law. Besides, the consequences can linger for at least a decade.

Libertarians like John Stossel have denounced the federal government on student loans, arguing that liberal politicians tout college as the pathway to success. Granted, all of this is true. College grants have enticed millions to take the government-subsided higher education plunge. Yet let’s starting acting like adults. I am one of those Americans still paying student loan debt. I do not blame the feds for my debt situation. I pay for it and take steps not to go there again.  Costly outcomes occur, and yet instead of feeling sad or bitter, I choose—yes, choose—to be glad of what could have been and make better on what I have. Liberty opens our eyes to opportunities, even in the midst of our want. We can have more even if we find that there’s not much.


To Big Government progressives like Barack, Bernie, and Hillary, debt (personal or national) is a means to an end, not something mean (i.e. cruel) which needs to be ended. The Democratic presidential candidates have made student loan debt as fundamental feature of their campaigns. Weekend at Bernie’s is promising free college and loan forgiveness. Madam Hillary is playing a little closer to the center: free community college and lower student loan rates. The Democratic Party Establishment is praying that Hillary stays centered, since a Bernie win in the primaries could further erode the desperate Dems’ general election chances.

On the Republican side, very few candidates talk about student loan debt.  Carson says “no free college.” Good for him. Only two candidates have offered a comprehensive student loan plan, both already tarnished with the Establishment label: Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Rubio pushed a bipartisan solution in the US Senate:  deduct funds automatically from individual paychecks, a percentage of one’s income, not exceeding a specific amount, with partial loan forgiveness after twenty years, and more to follow after thirty.  Bush offers a fixed line of credit and more education on student loans. These plans sound compassionate. But isn’t compassionate conservatism what led us to Barack Obama?

The most compassionate approach to student loan debt is a reality check, the most recent one to be cashed came not from a presidential candidate, but one-term conservative Congressman  Joe Walsh of Illinois. He reamed out constituents for blaming the banks for the housing collapse. They ignored the reams of regulations and profligate loans to irresponsible adults who could not pay them. Lots of people have debt. They needed to be more informed. Perhaps we shouldn’t have listened to adults who said “Take on the debt and you will pay it off in no time!” Better economic growth and opportunity can help the next generation defray student loan debt.


Presidential candidates shouldn’t offer more “solutions.” Republicans are (supposed to be) all about individual liberty, which ties into personal responsibility. If the federal government engaged in predatory practices to coerce people into bad loans, end them now. If someone takes a loan, they have to make the payments, or face the consequences. We are already a truly indebted nation, and we shouldn’t make it worse for those who have already paid their debts.


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