Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) of Maryland was asked this week whether he supports public investments in student loans. His response didn't go well.
For those who can't watch clips online, Bartlett began with a meandering answer, before eventually arguing that he believes it's unconstitutional for Congress to help students afford college tuition. In fact, the very idea reminded him of Nazis. Seriously.
"Not that it's not a good idea to give students loans, it certainly is a good idea to give them loans," the congressman said. "But if you can ignore the Constitution to do something good today, tomorrow you will be ignoring the Constitution to do something bad. You could. There are more people in our, in America today of German ancestry than any other [inaudible]. The Holocaust that occurred in Germany -- how in the heck could that happen? And when you start down the wrong road, it can be a very slippery slope."
Yesterday, Bartlett conceded his comparison was "ill-advised and inappropriate," adding, " I should never use something as horrific as the Holocaust to make a political point, and I deeply apologize to anyone I may have offended."
As for why the 10-term congressman thought of the Holocaust while talking about student loans, well, your guess is as good as mine. What's more, it's worth realizing that a congressman who believes student loans are an outrageous abuse of the Constitution almost certainly has to believe most of the advances of the 20th century were illegal.
But in the larger context, let's not forget that while student loans used to be entirely uncontroversial, as the Republican Party becomes more radicalized, GOP opposition to student loans is growing more intense -- in some cases to the point of self-parody.
Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri, for example, recently called the federal student-loan program a "stage-three cancer of socialism."
The rhetoric used by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is far less inflammatory, put their policy agenda is unambiguous: slash Pell Grants, cut college tax credits, and reintroduce the loan-system middleman so that banks are rewarded instead of students. What about young people who can't afford tuition at the college of their choice? According to the GOP ticket, they should either choose wealthy parents or "shop around" for some other school that charges less, because a Romney/Ryan administration doesn't intend to help.
In his convention speech last night, President Obama said, "I don't believe that firing teachers or kicking students off financial aid will grow the economy, or help us compete with the scientists and engineers coming out of China.... I refuse to ask students to pay more for college."
It's striking to realize that such a sentiment doesn't enjoy bipartisan support. It's even more incredible that for some Republican members of Congress, the basic policy idea reminds them of cancer, socialism, and Nazis.