By Yonoson Rosenblum | SEPTEMBER 6, 2022
No one has ever questioned Biden's willingness to do what it takes to secure his political survival
President Joe Biden announced on August 24 forgiveness for tuition debt of up to $10,000 for those earning up to $125,000, or those with a combined household income of up to $250,000. Estimates of the likely cost of the forgiveness range from $300 million to $1 trillion, in one Penn Wharton study. And as a product of an executive order, not legislation, it lacks any compensatory budgetary provisions to make up for the deficit incurred.
The first thing to note about the debt forgiveness plan is that it is deeply regressive. In the words of Harvard professor Jason Furman, it leaves 332 million Americans to pay the debts — through some combination of higher taxes, lower benefits, and inflation — of 30 million.
And those 30 million are primarily drawn from the more affluent demographics. College graduates enjoy a $900,000 lifetime earning premium for men and $630,000 for women over high school graduates. Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe notoriously tweeted his thanks to President Biden on behalf of thousands of his former students.
The massive debt forgiveness, according to Furman, will only fan the inflationary fires already raging by pouring an additional half a trillion dollars in government debt onto the flames. Inflation exacts its highest toll on the poorest Americans — i.e., those who live closest to the brink and spend almost all their earnings on necessities. The less affluent also possess the fewest appreciable assets to offset the impact of inflation.
Debt forgiveness treats those parents who scrimped and saved to repay their children's college loans and students who worked through college to help pay their tuition as rubes. During the 2020 Democratic primaries, one such parent accused Senator Elizabeth Warren, a major proponent of debt forgiveness, of viewing him as a sucker. She had no response.
With his debt forgiveness proposal, Biden has put to death, hopefully forever, the image of Democrats, and particularly their progressive wing, as the party of "the little guy" or the working class. The transformation of our political parties is now complete, with the country club Republicans of yore having morphed into the country club Democrats of today, in Kevin Williamson's memorable formulation. (The ten wealthiest zip codes in America are all solidly Democratic.)
That transformation has long been evident to all with eyes to see. Who, for instance, pays the price, and who benefits, from the three million illegal aliens who have poured across the border during the Biden presidency? Illegal aliens drive the wages of unskilled workers down, to the benefit of the wealthy (who can hire cheaper gardeners) and businesses, and at the cost of working class citizens, including a high percentage of racial minorities.
The Covid response of blue states favored those who could work from their computers at home and/or could afford private schooling for their kids, while having its most devastating impact on those engaged in manual labor and small business owners.
AS A FIX for the problem of soaring college tuitions, which have outstripped increases in the cost of living by a large margin for decades, the debt forgiveness is described by Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle as "perfect for making the problem worse." Once indulged, large-scale debt forgiveness creates the expectation of future forgiveness, and thereby allows colleges to raise tuitions yet again.
McArdle cites one study that 60 cents of every additional educational loan dollar is gobbled up by tuition increases. Yet those tuition increases have nothing to do with improved education. Indeed, an inverse relationship is closer to the truth.
While the numbers of tenure-track faculty members has remained the same for decades, academic bureaucracies of enforcers of various diversity, equity, and inclusion mandates have exploded. Those enforcers are largely drawn from the ranks of educational colleges, which cater to the least academically qualified and most radicalized students. The quality of education and development of students' ability to think about complex issues are not high on their agenda. Indeed, for "social justice" enforcers, there are no complex issues.
Increased governmental expenditures have thus gone largely to making education worse. And the kids are wising up to that fact. College enrollments are declining, as students, especially those who do not gain the credential advantage of a top-rated school, realize that they will learn little of value, and that they will likely end up with jobs for which a college education was not needed. Universities compete for a dwindling group of potential students by building Club Med-type facilities and bolstering sports teams, which only ends up making education less serious.
PRESIDENT BIDEN HAS taken to labeling his political opponents "semi-fascists" and styling himself as the great defender of American democracy. But the founders conferred the power of the purse on Congress, not on the executive, and they would have been astounded by the idea that the president could, with the stroke of a pen, add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt.
That is as autocratic an action as anything dreamed of by Biden's predecessor, himself no stickler for the Constitution's separation of powers. And that same autocratic tendency was manifested by the eagerness of a host of blue state governors to rule by emergency orders for two years during the Covid epidemic.
President Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi both expressed grave doubts about the president's authority to unilaterally forgive huge amounts of student debt. But the president's low approval ratings, as midterm elections approach, finally caused him to overcome any scruples on the matter to provide what is, in effect, a large bribe to key Democratic constituencies.
The first of those are relatively affluent suburban dwellers, who will presumably be better able to figure out what to do with an extra $10,000 than their poorer counterparts would be with an equivalent amount of credit card relief.
The second key constituency is the vast academic complex, which constituted the most active lobbying group for debt forgiveness to further finance the bloated numbers and salaries of college bureaucrats. Diogenes had a far better chance of finding an honest man by the light of his lantern than one would have of finding a Republican among college administrators.
And finally, there are the students. Young college students and recent graduates are one of the most solidly Democratic demographics. The problem is that they tend not to vote. What better way to pique their interest in voting than a tidy payoff with suggestions of more to come. Few of them will doubt their worthiness for a significant payoff after all the exhausting work of "becoming woke," to quote Williamson again.
Over a political career spanning more than fifty years, there are many who have doubted Joe Biden's adherence to any rigorous set of principles and his policy chops. But no one has ever questioned his willingness to do what it takes to secure his political survival. His debt forgiveness is but the most recent example.
Elul as a City of Refuge
Of late I have been engrossed in my brother Rabbi Mattisyahu Rosenblum's posthumously published Rays of Wisdom (Eshel Publications). A full review is forthcoming, but in the meantime, I'd like to share his understanding of a difficult remez (hint) of the Arizal to the month of Elul found in Shemos 21:13: The first letters of words "inah l'yado v'samti lecha — [Hashem] caused it to come to his hand [to kill], I shall provide you [a place to which to flee]" spell Elul.
But what is the connection between Elul and the cities of refuge for accidental killers to which the verse refers?
Each person has his unique makom, the place from which he draws his sustenance. The accidental killer cuts off another from the place that sustains him. And as a consequence, middah k'neged middah, he has to go into a form of galus — i.e., to an ir miklat. Kayin, the first murderer, was cursed from the land to be na va'nad ba'aretz — an exile on the earth — for the rest of his life (Bereishis 4:14).
Elul is the end of the year. The infusion of spiritual energy through the shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah, which recall the primordial Divine breath into Adam's nostrils, has dissipated. The excitement at the beginning of the year — reishis hashanah — had ended in just another year — acharis shanah (See Devarim 11:12).
The fear of Elul is that described in Mesilas Yesharim (Chapter 24) as the highest level: Fear of Sin, yiras cheit. Cheit is a language of lack or absence. Fear of Sin is our self-perception of all the ways that we are lacking and have failed in our mission. And that failure is a form of having killed something in ourselves.
As a consequence, we feel ourselves cut off and alienated from Hashem. The root alef-ches-reish found in acharis expresses the idea of being cut off, alienated.
That feeling places us squarely in the yetzer's playing field. The yetzer wants us believe that teshuvah is impossible and that there is no repair for the magnitude of our failings.
In response to the yetzer comes a message of hope in the verse cited by the Arizal. Yes, you have killed, whether yourself or another. But the situation in which you find yourself, while far from ideal, also comes from Hashem, just as Hashem brought the unwitting victim to the hand of the one who slew him.
What has become of us may not accord with Hashem's original plan, but He has, at some level, brought about the alternate situation. That means within the current circumstances in which we find ourselves, there is still the potential for revealing kevod Shamayim in the world, and thereby advancing Creation to its ultimate goal. We are not lost and without hope.
Elul is a city of refuge in time, an opportunity to reconnect and derive our sustenance from a new place. We do that by recognizing our total dependence on Hashem. Elul is the gematria of binah (understanding), and in the Arizal's lexicon, binah is synonymous with Ima (mother).
When we turn toward Hashem and recognize our dependence upon Him, like that of a child upon his mother, no matter how far we have strayed, no matter how much of our potential we have failed to realize, He will still embrace us and provide us with a place of refuge. We still have a crucial task to play in His world.