You don't have to go to college to be a success ... We need the people who run the offices, the people who do the hard physical work of our society.
—George H.W. Bush, Statement to the students of East Los Angeles' Garfield High School (5 May 1988)
"Not all folks are gifted the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands," Santorum began. "Some people have incredible gifts and want to work out there making things."
Then he went after the president's call for making college easier for Americans to attend.
"President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob," Santorum said as the crowd howled with laughter and applause. "There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor."
|From "The Week"|
She left school after ninth grade. She didn't leave school out of economic need; both sides of my family were very middle class. But children in Cuba in her day had compulsory education only through ninth grade, and school bored her, and she had that talent with her hands. She left school and has never stopped working since, delighting in something she knows she can do as well as anybody, and sometimes better.
Her skill, learned at my grandmother's feet, got her a good union job in the New York garment industry. Between her job and my father's barber shop, they were able to send myself and my two brothers to parochial school for elementary and high school, to college—which we self-funded through grants and minimal loans—and me on to get my master's degree in library science.
My mother loves working with her hands. But, both she and my father were determined that their sons wouldn't; that we would go to university, that we would work with our minds, have lives easier than they had, have lives which improved on theirs. No, they didn't perform back-breaking labor; but it was physical enough that they knew they wanted something better for their children. No sacrifice was too great to ensure that we would have opportunities they hadn't, that we could take advantage of everything this country offered.
No, you don't have to go to college to be a success. My parents are proof of that: they raised a family that's gone on to achieve parts of the American Dream.
But Mr. Santorum's statement—like Mr. Bush's in 1988—point not only to an anti-intellectual strain among conservatives, but also to an ideology that in part is against economic fairness. Study after study shows that those with college degrees have a better shot at a middle class life than those without. That point isn't up for debate.
But among the right wing there's always a fear that too much education is dangerous; students get worrisome ideas, they start to question the world around them, they start to go against lawful authority—and remember that all authority ultimately derives from God in their world view. There's always the fear that if they send their sons and daughters to a liberal arts university that they'll jettison all the beliefs they've tried to inculcate in them. The fact that it isn't borne out by empirical evidence—in fact, that the opposite is true, that those who don't go to university experience steeper declines in religiosity than those who do—doesn't stop the idea from propagating and taking root. It dovetails nicely with the anti-intellectualism currently rife in the GOP and the Right—egged on, it should be said, by leaders with advanced degrees themselves, but without the requisite wisdom that possession of such degrees would indicate.
An ill-educated population is easier to dominate, both economically and politically. This study posits that a person with a lack of education is more likely to harbor right-wing and bigoted ideas. Such a person, instead of blaming his economic difficulties on the real culprits, will turn his ire at "elites" and groups other than his own. And the problem isn't that those with only a high school degree are "dumber" than those with advanced degrees. This country was built in large part by people with "only" high school diplomas; they fought the wars and voted in the elections that brought an era of unparalleled prosperity from the end of World War II to the beginning of the 1970s. The problem lies in the fact that basic education has been gutted in this country, to the point where functional illiterates graduate from high school, and are expected to make it out in the world. Such students are unfit for university or any but the most menial of jobs. This is a problem that crosses racial and ethnic lines. And this problem exacerbates tribalism, with each group blaming the other for its troubles, unable to turn their attentions to the real adversary.
For all the protestations from conservatives that they want to enable every citizen to live the American Dream, in reality they want to limit that dream to as few people as possible. They've always been able to keep that part of the program secret, or at least bamboozle their voters as to their true purposes. Their "victory" in 2010 made them arrogant, convinced that they'd put "that one" in his place and that the country was with them. This arrogance has led to the near collapse of the conservative project, with one misstep after another, one egregious over-reach following the previous one. Perhaps if the anti-intellectual base of the right wing hadn't hounded all the intellectuals out of the GOP, then the project would have gone on unimpeded. But the lunatics took over the asylum, and the psychosis is on display for all to see, without the mediation of someone like Bill Buckley. If the great unwashed end up destroying the conservative movement and its political arm from within, that will be a great irony, indeed.