In the fall of 1985, I was a college freshman at a no-name state school in the Pacific Northwest. Tuition was $404 a quarter, or $1,212 a year (fall, winter, and spring). I could—and did—earn enough money in one summer to pay for tuition, room and board (around $2,500 annually at the time), and books for an entire year.
I just looked up the tuition rates at my alma mater: $2,457 a quarter. That's $7,371 a year. Add the current room and board rate—$9,342—plus about $1,000 for books, and you're looking at an annual total cost north of $17,713. And that's for a crappy little commuter school.
Ignore, if you can, the drastic increase in the cost of this one school over a 27-year period. Who can earn enough money in a summer to pay for it? I don't make that much now, for crying out loud. So what the hell happened?
Forget marginal rates, forget capital gains, forget all that. This is what affects everyone—and this is the sort of economics we (and by "we" I mean those of us who didn't have the opportunities to attend Ivy League schools and whose parents didn't pay for our schooling) all understand. The Republicans, God bless 'em, seem far more interested in getting into the minutiae of the tax code and worshiping at the altar of entrepreneurship rather than addressing a 400% increase in college costs. And that's just one example.
When I brought this up with a fellow conservative a while back, his only reply was that the cost of things like TVs, smart phones, and a whole host of technological marvels has dropped considerably over the same period of time -- so I should just shut up and be happy. Not exactly what I'd want to communicate to potential voters.
It seems to me a simple message about where we went wrong and what we can do to fix it will go a long way toward winning people to our side.