IT'S CLEAR that the Pat Toomey/Katie McGinty race will be one of the most pivotal in the country for control of the U.S. Senate. McGinty is hoping to closely identify with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and have Clinton's popularity in Philadelphia, Scranton and other parts of Pennsylvania push her over the top against Toomey.
A major part of her appeal to voters is that she can identify with them and their struggles, because she is the ninth of 10 kids raised by her dad, a beat cop, and mom, a waitress, in a rowhouse in Northeast Philadelphia. As part of this brand, as the website Buzzfeed very recently noted, she has claimed, as she recently did to the Associated Press in January, "As the ninth of 10 kids and the first in my family to go to college, I've been privileged to live the American dream."
Politifact, the widely recognized referee of political claims, has called this college claim a "Pants on Fire." That means it says it's untrue. It cites Buzzfeed's report that found that her brother John McGinty graduated from La Salle University, a four-year college, in 1973 with a bachelor of arts. Buzzfeed further says that John McGinty's Facebook page says he got a master's in education from Temple University in 1978.
In fairness, Buzzfeed also reports that McGinty sometimes phrases her claim differently by saying that she was "first in her family to go to a four-year college." This statement reflects the fact that her brother first attended a community college before he went to La Salle.
Why is any of this important? It's important because it undercuts McGinty's campaign to say she can identify with the struggles of today's college students who are being crushed with student loan debt. She wants to say Toomey doesn't get that struggle and will not work in Washington to get more federal money to ease that burden. The claim of being the first in your family to go to college is today's political "I grew up in a log cabin" motif.
In fact, Buzzfeed reports that recently McGinty tweeted out "Lauren: Katie understands what I'm going through. She was the first in her family to go to a four-year college and didn't hold anything back."
The intent of both ways McGinty uses to talk about her path to college graduation is to try to say Toomey is not pushing for more money and therefore doesn't want to help students.
I hope that this untruth by McGinty opens up the debate about the reasons so many Pennsylvania students are graduating with such crushing student loan debt. At a town hall last week, President Obama told a teacher that college costs started to skyrocket in the 1980s and '90s because state legislatures decided they wanted to build more prisons and made up for the cuts to college funding by raising tuition. These comments by the president open up the whole school-to-prison pipeline Democrats like to talk about when they make the argument that we are not spending enough on education.
I find these arguments to be a giant myth. Colleges are charging the tuition they are because they can. The more government that is set up for students, the more they charge. The more we as a society demand a college diploma as the base requirement for getting more and more jobs, the more they charge. The more regulations we put in to prevent low-cost colleges from being created, the more they charge.
Like McGinty, I am a proud graduate of La Salle University. I am the first in my family to go to college. I say that to pay tribute to my parents, who instilled that goal in every one of their seven kids. I just happened to be the oldest. I also say that to push back against those on the liberal/progressive side who want to attack conservatives as mean and uncaring to the hurdles that middle-class people face today.
One of the biggest hurdles they face is Big College, the bloated system of higher education that has jacked up the cost of a college degree.
That's what McGinty and Toomey should be debating.
Teacher-turned-talk show host Dom Giordano is heard 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on WPHT (1210-AM). Contact him at www.domgiordano.com