I’ve been writing this column long enough to know the topics that are likely to generate a lot of angry comments and emails. Surprisingly, the topic that generates the most heat and negativity isn’t abortion. Nor is it gun control. It’s student loan forgiveness. 

But even I was surprised at the seething vitriol of Rep. Jared Golden’s recent statement on the topic, mostly because it sounded so unlike his usual communications. Golden doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being a firebrand. 

Obviously, he’s entitled to his opinion, and if he had simply said, “I do not support President Biden’s proposed policy of student loan forgiveness because [insert socioeconomic reason here],” it wouldn’t have been enough to write home about, much less a column. But no. He called people in favor of some (not even entire!) loan forgiveness “radical leftist elites” who are “trying to destroy anyone who disagrees.”

The rant appears to have been triggered by reporting by the Maine Beacon, a progressive news site, pointing out that members of the Blue Dog congressional coalition, of which Rep. Golden is co-chair, received the maximum allowable contribution ($5,000) from both Sallie Mae’s corporate PAC and Career Education Colleges and Universities, a lobby group for for-profit colleges. Both groups benefit from student loan payments. (In an odd coincidence, $10,000 was the amount of student loan debt that President Biden planned to forgive for all current holders of student loan debt.)

Now, I don’t think $10,000 was enough to buy Rep. Golden’s vote against the Biden debt relief package. By congressional standards of corruptive influence, it’s not very much. But as my mom always said, “a hit dog will holler.” 

I want to pick apart a few things about the Golden statement. I suspect a lot of people have the same thoughts as he does but are without his microphone.


First of all, he keeps implying that “working class people” are not the people who hold student loan debt. “Working class” does not mean “without a college education.” “Working class” means you make your living from wage labor as opposed to making your living from owning assets. Lots of people with a college education can be working class, unless Golden thinks nurses and public school teachers are all “radical leftist elites.” 

Rep. Golden also said that if Mainers wanted “free money for college,” they could “join the Marines and serve the country like I, and so many others, have.” First of all, not everyone can join the Marines, including pretty much anyone with a disability. Second, nobody should have to be willing to die in order to get an education. 

Golden also said that if people “want a career and hard skills without college debt, they should join a union and enter an apprenticeship.” This is a statement that shows how out of touch he is with the real world – this is understandable; other than an extremely short stint at an international logistics company, he’s been in the employment cocoon of the military and politics his entire adult life. He hasn’t had to apply for a real job. So he can be forgiven for not realizing that you don’t just “go join a union.” There’s a reason why only 6% of private-sector American workers belong to a union, and it’s not because they don’t want to learn a trade. It’s because the federal government has, since the Reagan administration, made it harder for unions to form and function, while making it easier for businesses to union-bust.  

Golden declares that “working class Mainers shouldn’t foot the bill for someone else’s choices.” I wonder where this attitude was when it came to forking over billions of dollars to the military? Why are we paying for someone else’s terrible decision to invade Iraq? What about bank bailouts? Farm subsidies for poorly chosen crops? How about his wife and child’s health insurance? Why should tax dollars pay for them to get health care when we didn’t elect them and it was his choice to have a kid?   

Golden compared student loans to car loans and mortgage loans. First of all, no bank gives a car loan – let alone a mortgage – to an 18-year-old with no credit or employment history. But you can get student loans for that. Second, there is the issue of interest rates. My car loan has a 2% APR, originating in 2021. My home mortgage interest rate is 5.25%, originating in 2022. As for my student loans, they range from 3.4% to 6.21% – and they date between 2011 and 2014. And I’m relatively lucky; my loans were all federal as opposed to private.

It’s also interesting that Rep. Golden would be so insulting and dismissive to college students, who were integral to his first election victory.


Of the 29 officially accredited colleges and universities in Maine, 22 are in Golden’s district. And those students hustled to get him elected. I know because my sister (and a ton of her friends) were among them. She worked on his first campaign and has been living in his district since 2018 (except for one COVID-19 semester back at home when the whole campus was shut down).

I asked for her opinion on his statement, and her answer was: “As a Maine student who went to college in Maine with other Maine students, his statement made zero sense and was completely unmoored from the reality of life in Maine.” That’s a direct quote. Somehow my 23-year-old little sister managed to craft a better statement, over text on her lunch break, than whoever is in charge of Rep. Golden’s communications. Maybe it’s all the Taylor Swift she listens to. 

Finally, I think an unexamined reason that loan forgiveness upsets so many people is because student loan debt acts as a class signifier. Specifically, it indicates that a person has attempted to make a class jump.

Debt indicates that someone without financial resources of their own has tried to better their position in life. The wealthy do not have student loan debt; they can afford to pay upfront for their education. And people who did not go to college – who did not choose that particular path of upward mobility, aka “the American Dream” – don’t have that debt. It’s interesting that the forgiven lending of the Paycheck Protection Program, which resulted in huge amounts of federal money being funneled toward the wealthy, hasn’t engendered the same rage.

But the PPP didn’t challenge class assumptions. Class is the third rail of American politics and society. It’s about time we touch it. 

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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