Go ahead and cancel student loan debt. No one said life was fair. | RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.


Life is unfair.

Such was the observation of President John F. Kennedy who, at a news conference in March 1962, taught Americans the way of the world. Asked about Army reservists being called up to serve in Vietnam despite having “done their time” stationed in West Berlin, Kennedy did not mince words.

“There is always inequity in life,” he said. “Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded, and some men never leave the country, and some men are stationed in the Antarctic, and some are stationed in San Francisco. It’s very hard in the military, or in personal life, to assure complete equality. Life is unfair.”

I’m with Jack, who was indeed on the right track.

I accept that life is unfair. I don’t do victimhood. Blame it on my culture. Like most Mexican Americans, I was raised not to whine about perceived injustices. I was taught to work hard and make the sacrifices necessary to turn your dreams into your reality.

So rest assured, America. You will not be getting a bill for reparations from Mexican Americans for the pilfering of the Southwest from Mexico in 1848 — as part of the land grab known as the Mexican American War.

This “live and let live” business can be tricky. Our fellow Americans — and America herself — should not be let off the hook for centuries of theft, oppression, racism, discrimination and other unfair treatment.

Of course, Mexican Americans have been victimized throughout history. They still are. It just behooves us not to think like victims.

This sets us apart from many Americans, who worship at the altar of victimhood. They whine about how this is unfair, and that is unjust. Everyone is sure that everyone else is grafting their way onto Easy Street. For some, the big graft is the decision by the Biden administration to cancel student loan debt for hundreds of thousands of borrowers.

The U.S. Department of Education recently canceled student loan debt for 40,000 people. The department is also offering credits to help another 3.6 million people pay off their loans under a plan that is designed to aid low-income borrowers and public servants.

Meanwhile, the administration also recently announced that it had canceled $7 billion in federal student loan debt for as many as 350,000 borrowers with disabilities.

Last year, the administration canceled more than $17 billion in debt for 725,000 borrowers.

One argument for loan forgiveness is that many of the estimated 43 million people who borrowed money to go to school were not told by lenders that they could qualify for debt relief if, for instance, they didn’t earn enough money after graduating.

“Student loans were never meant to be a life sentence,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in a statement. “But it’s certainly felt that way for borrowers locked out of debt relief they’re eligible for.”

Then there is the politics. The president is trying to keep a campaign promise — or at least make a feeble attempt at it. In the 2020 presidential election, Biden called for canceling $10,000 in student loan debt for each borrower. The projected tab: more than $400 billion. The administration promised dollars, but it has delivered pennies.

Still, a lot of Americans aren’t persuaded. Those who went into hock to fund their educations complain that any mass loan forgiveness program would not be “fair” to those who paid their own student debt.

I understand the gripe. I borrowed money to go to college and graduate school, and I paid it all back, even though it wasn’t easy. But that’s not why I think it’s a bad idea for the federal government to forgive student loan debt. Why make a free lunch the first lesson that someone learns after graduating from college? That will only cause harm.

At the same time, I’m not persuaded that the strongest argument against paying off student debt is that it’s unfair. So what? JFK was right. Life is unfair. The sooner people accept that fact, the better.

For a moment, I thought: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I imagined what it would be like to jump on the national victimhood bandwagon. I made a list of all the various ways in which life has been unfair to me — starting with the fact that I wasn’t born a Kennedy.

After a few minutes, I crumpled up the list. It was a waste of time and energy. Just like our national pastime of whining about unfairness.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.