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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Obama vs. McCain: The college issues

As absentee ballot deadlines draw near, voter registration groups are targeting college students in an effort to increase turnout. And polling groups, conscious of the stakes at play, are working to ascertain the preferences of college-age voters. For this feature, the Daily sat down with campus figures to break down the basics of three issues that are of great concern among students: the economy, education and the Iraq war.

The economy and a terrifying job market

As college students draw nearer to their post-graduation destinies, the important issue in this year's election for them — along with much of the rest of the nation — is the economy. Concern over finances has grown in recent years, and a Rock the Vote poll shows that for 41 percent of young voters (ages 18-29), the economy tops the issues list.

Political Science Lecturer Michael Goldman explained that the effects of the economy will help shape the direction college students' lives will take in the next several years. "We're looking at things like kids having to live at home longer," he said. "That's a change in the social dynamic ... We can't even imagine [another] time when every piece of the economic engine [was so] impacted by every other piece of the economic engine."

While both candidates acknowledge the need for the creation of jobs and the improvement of economic policy in America, they promote different mechanisms for doing so. In a classic split, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) look at tax policy through two entirely different lenses.

OBAMA: An enthusiastic supporter of the free market, Obama focuses largely on innovation and the potential for new technology to create employment opportunities for Americans. With hopes to invest over $150 billion over 10 years to develop a "clean energy economy," Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), claim that five million new "green" jobs will emerge.

"Those are jobs of the future," said junior Shana Hurley, president of the Tufts Democrats. "If you're young, and you want to be here, and you want a good job here, I think Barack Obama's working hard to make that happen."

McCAIN: An August press release quoted McCain on his plans to create jobs in America, emphasizing his traditional "trickle-down" stance. "[We] need an economic surge to keep jobs here at home and create new ones," McCain said. "We need to reduce the tax burden on businesses that choose to make their home in the United States of America."

Sophomore and Tufts Republicans President Michael Hawley said he trusts that such a plan will enhance his job prospects. "We're all going to be going out into the job market," he said. "I think McCain's plans of generally cutting taxes wherever he can would be far more beneficial to me and most of the rest of the people in this country."

Education and the affordability of a college degree

As Wall Street plummets, college students are looking at the loans they've accrued with greater fear and interest. According to a recent Rock the Vote poll, 64 percent of young voters want to hear more from the campaigns with respect to college affordability.

Goldman said the accessibility of higher education could drastically change in coming years. "[It] could be in three years, people say, ‘Hey, you're lucky you made it to UMass,'" he said. "[There may be] a real societal shift in our thinking of what the norm is. Is that everybody? No. But a lot of people are going to fall into that category of rethinking what their expectations are."

Another important question is the future of student loans and their effect on graduates. "A student who's paying 16 or 17 percent [interest has] a debt that's so large that you can't even afford to think about going to graduate school," he said.

Both candidates have said that college should be affordable for all Americans and that the loan process should be made easier.

OBAMA: By providing at least $4,000 to eligible students who complete 100 hours of community service, Obama's American Opportunity Tax Credit aims to encourage them to trade volunteer work for funds. He has also expressed interest in correcting perceived failures created by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Hurley said Obama's strategy will help keep the current and future generations of students in line with the rest of the world. "In a bigger picture way, I think it also gets at the fact that the jobs of the future — you can't get them if you don't have at least a two-year degree," Hurley said. "It's sort of about enhancing America's competitiveness in general."

McCAIN: "John McCain does … favor expanding the government's role in helping students procure loans for college, which I think will be important if the loan situation keeps getting worse," Hawley said.

McCain has not made financial aid a cornerstone of his campaign, but proposes the simplification of the system by making more information readily available to prospective college students. In the vein of cutting spending, McCain has said he hopes to eliminate wasteful research earmarks.

The Iraq war: Should I stay or should I go now?

The next president will need to devote a large amount of time and energy to either retreating from Iraq or continuing military action taken by President George W. Bush. According to recent poll results released by Rock the Vote, 24 percent of those surveyed said "Iraq" or "bring the troops home" should be the first issue the new president addresses.

But in the midst of economic hardship, interest in Iraq seems to have waned somewhat, particularly in comparison to activist efforts taken by young people during the Vietnam War.

"I think it's prevalent, [but] I also think it has dissipated, both because of the falling number of deaths and the rising focus on the economy," Hawley said. "I also think it was never as big an issue with college students as things like the Vietnam War was."

"I think the war continues to be something [college students] care about," Goldman said. "[But] the general consensus is that there is going to be an end date."

When it comes to the candidates, there are fundamental differences in the way they view the war, both in terms of ideology and when troops should be removed.

OBAMA: Most recently, Obama has supported the claim that, "You don't defeat a terrorist network by occupying Iraq." Hoping to remove combat brigades by summer 2010, Obama said at its onset that the war would lead to "an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs and undetermined consequences."

He has toed the line, supporting the troops while opposing official U.S. policy. "[We] are less safe around the globe and more divided at home," according to his Web site. "With determined ingenuity and at great personal cost, American troops have found the right tactics to contain the violence in Iraq, but we still have the wrong strategy to press Iraqis to take responsibility at home, and restore America's security and standing in the world."

Hurley cited the war as an important issue for young Democrats. "Young people are just upset with George Bush," she said.

McCAIN: While McCain's Web site says that he does not wish to "keep our troops in Iraq a minute longer than necessary to secure our interests there," he also stresses the "importance of succeeding" as opposed to immediate withdrawal and has insisted that the war has been "necessary, achievable and noble."

Hawley said ideologically, college Republicans are in line with McCain's view of the war, and that leaving Iraq now will prove futile. "If we leave now … all the work we've done will probably be in vain because that country could well collapse into a failed state … and we could end up having to go back in 15 years, which I certainly don't want to do," he said. "That's important to a lot of members of my club; we want someone who's willing to see this through to the end so that we don't have to go back."

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