Attentive readers may remember that I grew up in Watertown, South Dakota, which I visited recently. Today Watertown was in the news because President Obama went there to tout his free community college proposal. Also, because South Dakota was the only state he had not visited as president. Politico writes: “South Dakota is last on Obama’s list… and the feeling is mutual.”
The Watertown Public Opinion reports on his speech at Lake Area Tech:
“I have now been to all 50 states as president, and I was saving the best for last,” he said.
South Dakota is, of course, solidly Republican, but you can’t blame a speaker for this kind of thing.
After making a few remarks about Watertown, the president addressed why he was coming to a two-year community college in a state with a small population.
“The question is, why am I here?” he asked.
“Why would I come to a two-year college to the fifth biggest city in South Dakota?”
Why indeed? No doubt some in the audience found this mildly insulting. Later, Obama added this:
“That’s why I came here today, to this little tiny school in a little tiny town,” Obama said.
Watertown has a population of 21,000. It is far from tiny, and it is very prosperous. Somehow, I don’t think Obama gets that. This was the point he should have made sooner:
He then talked about how, “This school is leading the way.”
He lauded its graduation rate, which is three times the national average [Ed.: This can’t possibly be true, unless the average community college graduates 33% of its students], and the fact that more than 90 percent of graduates find jobs shortly after graduating.
I think Lake Area Tech is a fine school, but there is a reason why virtually all of its students are motivated to graduate and are immediately snapped up by employers: South Dakota is booming. Its economy is growing and unemployment is almost non-existent. South Dakota benefits from conservative governance. It has a citizen legislature that meets only briefly and then goes home. Its bureaucracy is minimal; the Lieutenant Governor position, for example, is a part-time job. There is no state income tax and the business climate is friendly. Watertown prospers in part because businesses move there from Minnesota. (Watertown is 30 miles or so from the Minnesota border.)
Does Obama understand any of this? I honestly don’t know. He may live in such an ideological bubble that it doesn’t occur to him to ask why states like the Dakotas and Texas are doing so well, and most blue states are doing so badly.
Obama concluded with the usual demagogic touch:
He then talked about his proposal to make community college educations free. Obama said that expanding community college could be paid by closing a tax loophole for millionaires and billionaires.
I’m not sure what loophole that would be. Millionaires and billionaires already pay far more than their fair share of income taxes. Nevertheless, this old chestnut is always available to finance whatever boondoggle the Democrats are pushing at the moment.
When I was in Watertown a few weeks ago, I was told that some students were contemplating a protest of Obama’s visit, but it doesn’t seem to have materialized. That’s a good thing: South Dakotans are polite. My guess is that Obama rode out of town no wiser than he rode in.