LBJ coincidentally comes up in a couple of the stories now on our homepage, perhaps underscoring the point that E. J. Dionne Jr. makes in his column that a “thoroughly justified revival of Lyndon B. Johnson’s standing” is underway. From “LBJ’s Way”:
The Johnson comeback brings with it a new appreciation of the durability of the reforms enacted on his watch. It turns out that there are irreversible social reforms -- changes in how we govern ourselves and view our society that future generations come to take for granted and refuse to wipe off the books.
It’s impossible to imagine that the Civil Rights Act will ever be repealed. The law itself and the broad political and social movement that came together to pass it permanently altered the nation’s attitudes on race. Racism will never be fully stamped out, but our default position -- most visible in the rising generation -- is that racial discrimination is both wrong and stupid. At the least, attacks on the civil rights legacy must be indirect and subtle, as in the Supreme Court’s weakening of the Voting Rights Act.
Similarly, despite all the efforts to contain Medicare’s costs, government-provided health insurance for the elderly is a fact of life. An overriding contest in our politics now is whether the guarantees in the Affordable Care Act will also come to reflect a new normal.
Among the other reforms of the Johnson era was the Higher Education Act of 1965, which Hollis Phelps recaps in his piece on one of today’s “threats to the common good”: the huge burden of student loan debt that graduates carry with them after college. From “Graduating with a Degree in Debt”:
It’s fair to say that many students wouldn’t be able to attend college at all without easy access to loans. But that so many students have to borrow has much to do with the cost of attending. Although the figures vary, over the past thirty years the real cost of attending a four-year institution has at least tripled, far outpacing inflation. Increasing tuition prices means that grants and scholarships don’t go as far as they used to. Combine that with family income levels, which have been stagnant since the 1970s, and it’s no surprise that the average student now graduates college with $29,400 of debt; 38 million individuals now hold a combined total of more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. That’s four times what it was ten years ago, and it surpasses total U.S. credit card debt. In fact, when it comes to what Americans owe, student loan debt is second only to mortgage debt. …
When confronted with such facts, politicians, the media, business leaders, and the student loan industry typically respond by stressing the importance of individual responsibility in borrowing. True, we might hear halfhearted calls to rein in the cost of tuition, but more common are scolding reminders about how planning in advance, say, with college savings accounts; how choosing an affordable school; how working part time; and how good old-fashioned belt-tightening can help one avoid a mountain of debt after graduation. …
My students, who sometimes graduate with double the average debt, aren’t necessarily poor planners or irresponsible borrowers, misinformed about the debt they are taking on to finance their college education. They just come from homes that couldn’t afford to put money into a college savings account. They’ve chosen for various reasons to attend a college that is one of the more reasonable options in the state, but still costs $17,300 a year for tuition alone. They already have part-time jobs, but $7.25 an hour, which is the current minimum wage in North Carolina, doesn’t make much of a dent in current tuition rates. They know what it means to tighten their belts, since they’ve done so all their lives. My students are, in other words, painfully aware of the amount of debt they are taking on and the consequences: numerous years of sacrifice in other areas of their lives to repay with interest the cost of their degree.