Let’s Dumb it Down a Bit Mr. Santorum
By Dave Swenson
I try to stay out of horse-race politics in this column, but Rick Santorum of late has become something to behold. In the run-up to the Michigan primary, he noted with disdain that President Obama wants everyone who can to go to college. In fact, that’s true. I’ve heard several snippets where the President exhorted youth to get one or two years more of education and training beyond high school if they can’t cut the four-year grind, to keep learning for the sake of their futures and for the sake of our future economy.
And Santorum’s response? He called President Obama “a snob” for wanting our youth to go to four-year colleges staffed, according to Santorum, by “liberal professors” who will, in effect, drum their faith out of them.
Gee, I thought college is where you went to get smart and skilled, not to get God. And all of this from a man who has a bachelors, masters, and a law degree. It’s a wonder there is even a shred of faith left in him.
On the stump, Santorum is a sanctimonious buffoon who appears willing to fling any rhetorical bombs he can to pretend that Christians like him are under insidious attack from all institutions big and small, to include a president who wants the nation’s youth to, of all despicable things, achieve. But this latest accusation towards the president was about as mischaracterized as conceivably possible.
Here is what Mr. Obama said at the National Governors’ Conference this week, which was nothing but a reiteration of the same remarks he’d made over and over since the State of the Union message where he argued for education access reforms to ease dislocated workers back into higher education and back into, ultimately, the workforce: “When I speak about higher education,” he said, “we’re not just talking about a four-year degree…. We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment. And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school.”
Can you see the snobbery in that? Can you see some liberal college professor subversion in that line? Neither can I. But strangely, the people before whom Mr. Santorum levied his charge cheered and applauded the line. He was speaking to a group of older, very conservative white people; most of whom, if Tea Party and social-conservative demographic profiles are true, never attended college nor saw the need to – relics of a time past who would wish their standards, and their collective ignorance, for the times to come.
Let’s break down the numbers. In the current economy, the unemployment rate for persons with a four year college degree or more is just 4.2 percent. The rate for those with some college or a two-year degree is 7.2 percent. The rate for someone with just a high school diploma is 8.2 percent. Without a high school diploma, the rate climbs to 13.1 percent. The national rate is 8.3 percent. It is clear to all but the most ignorant or belligerent that the average well-being of the workforce depends on their education levels. Those with more education have better job security. Those at the bottom of the education heap have lousy job security. Education matters a lot.
Exactly to whom is Mr. Santorum pandering with his strange conclusions? Is there a tangible distrust of education in this country that social conservatives have tapped in to? Could it be that there is legitimate sentiment out there that says, in effect, let’s just dumb it down a bit, that society and democracy need less smarts, not more? Are there in fact advocates wanting young men and women, let alone those who’ve been displaced by the Great Recession, to aspire to less?
Mr. Santorum knows for a fact that his message does not sell well on college campuses. No wonder his discomfort. Colleges teach us to have a BS detector, and a BS detector is to a politician as sunlight is to a vampire.
My sense is that conservatives of Mr. Santorum’s ilk find educated and critically trained minds threatening to their reactionary sentiments and their increasingly strained interpretations of life in America. It is a genuine fear that we would be populated with educated and productive citizens less prone to yielding to the bizarre rantings of the oogedy boogedy rabble shouting “glory hallelujah” whilst scurrying to and fro manufacturing threats to their faiths and pretending to bear the pain of the martyrs.
Who would have thought the party of Lincoln would devolve into the party of lets settle for less-than?
Dave Swenson is a long-time analyst of Iowa political, social, and economic issues. He is a staff research economist at Iowa State University and a community and regional economics analyst and educator. He also teaches planners (those nefarious agents of totalitarian control) how to do economic things in their profession at both Iowa State University and The University of Iowa.
Dr Swenson,as usual you are on the money.The problem seems to be that people of this persuasion are making few to zero converts.I was beyond conversion,but is was not the arguments of the left but the hollowness of the arguments from the right that profoundly changed my mine.Forsooth,I politically started as a social Darwinest;a long ways from my present position. Your argument,my argument will never carry at the rate conversions are made to a more just view of the world.Think of a way we might convince the great number of people that are not fully informed but are convinced they are personlly in peril from progressive thought.