As the 2008 election season heats up with Super Tuesday, students, like other voters across the country, are carefully weighing their presidential options. Much like the rest of America, we are concerned about the issues that dominate the national debate, including Iraq and healthcare. We are also looking for a candidate who speaks to our particular concerns, who can talk with equal passion and insight about war and healthcare as they can about student loans and genocide. And most importantly, students are looking for a candidate who can talk about tomorrow as well as today.
On both measures, we have found our candidate in Barack Obama. At a college rally just before he declared his candidacy, Sen. Obama reminded a packed room of students of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” He challenged students to “grab that arc” and to work to set America on the right path once more.
I began supporting Sen.Obama last year when I heard him discussing the issue of student loans. As a state senator in Illinois, he was spending more each month on his student loans (in conjunction with his wife’s) than on their mortgage. That is a rare problem for any politician in this country. But Barack Obama is no typical politician. As editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review at Harvard Law School, he rejected the lucrative job offers he was receiving and chose to begin his career on the streets of Chicago as a community organizer and civil rights attorney. Later, he taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago and then joined the Illinois State Senate. Unlike most, he is a bottom-up kind of politician who prioritized helping others and understanding the struggles of the average American over making money. Most politicians have more self-serving interests and choose the opposite path before getting into politics.
Sen. Obama knows that every student in this country should be able to attend college without worrying about graduating under a burden of crippling debt. One indication of his commitment to students is the fact that the first bill he introduced in the U.S. Senate was legislation to expand the Pell Grant program that makes college more affordable for students in need of financial assistance. He has demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the issue of access to higher education in this country, and he has proposed to reform corrupt lending institutions that bankrupt all too many students trying to get an education.
As president, Obama would eliminate wasteful subsidies to private student lenders, instead using the federal Direct Loan program, and investing the savings in additional student aid. Some 7 percent of college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Obama supports increasing federal funding for basic research, expanding broadband technology, and making the research and development tax credit permanent so that young people with and without college degrees can thrive in the job market.
Obama has shown that he has the vision and the judgment to lead. Students are rallying behind him as the only candidate who opposed the war in Iraq from the start, before it was popular or politically expedient to do so. He has been a leading voice in Washington on an issue dear to my heart: the genocide in Darfur, traveling to the region to raise awareness and getting legislation signed into law to increase funding to work to end the bloodshed there. Barack Obama’s campaign is about empowering all Americans, especially young people. Every American matters and should have the opportunity to take part in our nation’s politics. We are tired of the divisive, unproductive politics in our country. Sen. Obama’s message of unity and inclusion is exactly what our country needs to enact real change in politics. Young Americans tend to distrust politics. Sen. Obama’s sincerity and his ability to appreciate our concerns is a breath of fresh air. We are tired of the sound bites that dominate today’s political scene. We are ready for something more authentic.
Last week, when the Los Angeles Times endorsed Sen. Obama, it stated this: “In the language of metaphor, Clinton is an essay, solid and reasoned; Obama is a poem, lyric and filled with possibility. Clinton would be a valuable and competent executive, but Obama matches her in substance and adds something that the nation has been missing far too long — a sense of aspiration.”
We often hear from our parents’ and our grandparents’ generations that America’s best days are behind her. But as students, we have the opportunity to trade in the politics of fear for the politics of hope, creating a new resolve that our best days are still ahead. Every generation has an opportunity to change the politics of its time. This is our generation’s time and our candidate is Barack Obama.