Harvard University, my alma mater, has decided that students from low income families – earning less than $60,000 a year – will pay no tuition and have no student loan burden. This was a forward-thinking policy decision by a wealthy institution sitting on $27.6 billion, the largest university endowment in the land. Implicit in Harvard’s decision is an acknowledgment that things are getting out of hand in higher education, and in society in general. A quality education, often prohibitively expensive and out of reach to many, should not be accessible solely to the wealthy or those who are able to afford it.
Harvard’s spirit of equity and fairness should be shared around the country, in the Congress and in state houses throughout the wealthiest nation on earth. Despite what some people would tell you, America is a nation of plenty, the world’s largest economy. The only problem is that in the so-called land of opportunity – not unlike Egypt, Libya, and the various other unraveling countries in the Mideast – only a few people are actually enjoying the wealth. Here, the bankers received their bailout, a reward for their greed, incompetence and inflated sense of self-worth. Meanwhile, the super duper-rich had their Bush-era tax breaks extended under a Democratic president whose idea of compromise has been to grant Republicans whatever they want.
The Obama budget reflects an acceptance of the conservative narrative that the poor must suffer in the name of austerity and balancing the budget. Wall Street enjoys record profits and bonuses, while the working poor must endure cuts to social programs, home heating assistance programs and access to graduate education. But the talk of deficit reduction is pure grandstanding. After all, the Bush tax cuts are driving the deficit, and significant cuts to America’s bloated military behemoth are off the table.
In their quest to shrink government down to nothing, conservatives have found their new welfare queen in the form of public labor unions. Everyday people who are just trying to earn an honest living are suddenly scapegoated, blamed for the nation’s financial and fiscal woes. Of course, there is a larger picture at play, which is why thousands of Wisconsin workers have protested against Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. The Democrats in Wisconsin fled the state to deny Republicans the quorum to vote for the union-busting legislation, with Democrats in other states like Indiana following suit, and Republicans locking protestors out of the Ohio Statehouse. The Republican Party wants to remove all vestiges of union power in this country, so that corporations are allowed to roam, unfettered and unchallenged, and trample over the rights of American workers. The Supreme Court has allowed corporations to buy what was passing as democracy, and now Tea Party legislatures and governors would render this a full-fledged nation of serfs and sharecroppers.