Usually, giving stuff away is a winning political strategy. But that’s not an iron law.

Frederick M. Hess

Biden’s calculus is simple. He’s giving up to $20,000 in taxpayer money to millions of college-educated borrowers, whom Democrats trust to be appropriately grateful. Meanwhile, the cost will be borne by, well, everyone, including children and grandchildren who aren’t yet with us. The politics here are those of sugar subsidies— concentrated, visible benefits and dispersed, ephemeral costs. Most of the time, this kind of politics pays off.

Is there any reason to think things might work differently in this case? Maybe.

Recall that it took some time for the political consequences of Dobbs to shake out. Indeed, the very reasons that Dobbs aids Democrats might suggest why loan forgiveness could cut the other way.

Both Dobbs and loan forgiveness raise hard questions regarding the motives of those upending the status quo. Democrats have effectively used Dobbs to suggest that the right is willing to trample on individual rights in pursuit of some kind of Handmaid’s Tale-style theocracy. Biden’s loan maneuver was tailor-made to fuel the suspicion that Democrats are contemptuous of personal responsibility and intent on catering to woke kids with graduate degrees. 

Both hint at slippery slopes. Dobbs raised the specter that the Supreme Court might revisit other decisions governing gay marriage and privacy. The audacious illegality of Biden’s move and the calls for more from the progressive back-benchers feed the suspicion that Democrats will be itching to do a reprise in the future.