Friday, March 23, 2007

Why Democrats Are So Concerned About the Cost of College

I can't be the only person who's been wondering why Democrats are so worried about the cost of college. It's not like we didn't know college is expensive. The costs of college have been skyrocketing for the past 20 years (boring aside: when I started college, it was $4 per semester hour. The same school today charges over $5,000 for a semester load of classes. That means one semester costs more than my entire college education).

Why is the cost of college suddenly the hottest topic of Democratic presidential candidates? According to Mark Schmitt, it's because Mark Penn says so.

...(H)e has generally put more emphasis on winning over prosperous white women than on men. A year ago he published an op-ed in which he said, "In 1996 we identified soccer moms as the critical swing voters. Today they remain at the center of the swing vote, but they're a decade older and their kids are going off to college." This claim is inseparable from Penn's case for Clinton's electability: Well-off white women love her, well-off white women are the only voters who matter, therefore...

It is that sentence -- "soccer moms' ... kids are going off to college" -- that captures why almost every Democratic pol seems to have become convinced that our most important domestic priority is to make college tuition tax deductible. Given all the problems in the world, this is a staggeringly irresponsible policy, since it wouldn't help a single kid go to college who is not already attending college and would disproportionately benefit the well-off.

I agree with Schmitt. I couldn't figure out why Democrats were suddenly obsessed with the price of college like it had leapt 2000% in one year or something. It makes sense, though, that college costs are suddenly the most important issue facing America, since Mr. Soccer Mom has declared it so.

According to Penn, a "mom-fluential is a woman who spends a lot of time online discussing products and getting coupons from manufacturers. They then send e-mails to everybody in their address book about which products they like and what they don't like.

Honestly, does anybody like that woman? Frankly, I would find it very annoying if someone was proselytizing for some product or other, sending me e-mails all the time. I get enough spam as it is. I don't need people I know doing it.

Of course, Penn's site is about how marketers can use the mom-fluentials to help expand their consumer reach, not about politics. So, how does the mom-fluential, who is hyping products to her friends, affect voting patterns?

The information available doesn't say directly, but this blog gives a few of the criteria for mom-fluentials:
- Send emails to companies

- Send emails to politicians

- Send e-mail news and media

- Make friends online

- Make business contacts online

- Provide feedback to companies

- Forward news and links to others

My guess is the fact that these women frequently contact politicians leads to the conclusion that they heavily influence policy. And they might; that's why so many organizations beg people to contact their political representatives to either support or block certain bills.

But Schmitt's point is that this "narrow-casting" of issues does not serve the American electorate. Is the cost of college really the most pressing issue in American politics? If it is, we certainly haven't heard much about it over the years. Personally, I would rather here the presidential candidates spend more time talking about immigration, law enforcement, education, and energy dependency.