Rick Santorum "Snob" Comments on Higher Education Only Fuel Culture War

This week, Rick Santorum called President Barack Obama a "snob" after misrepresenting his view on higher education: 

"Not all folks are gifted in the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands. Some people have incredible gifts ... and want to work out there making things. President Obama once said he wants everyone in America to go to college. What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his."

What's interesting about his comments are that he and Obama appear to agree on higher education. In his 2009 State of the Union address, Obama set a goal that every high school graduate commit to one year of postsecondary education, which includes credentials awarded at for-profit, community colleges, and vocational institutions. 

Obama clarified his position on Tuesday: "When I speak about higher education, 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.”

Santorum and Obama are not alone in their consensus. In fact, there is a great deal of agreement on the general goals and direction of higher education between the two major parties (and among economists). To their credit, conservatives roundly rejected Santorum's mischaracterization of Obama's position. For example, Chris Christie, the popular Republican governor of New Jersey, resolutely said Santorum's comments didn't make any sense. 

If there's little disagreement on higher education, why would Santorum make these comments? Santorum is likely trying to capitalize on culture war conservatism, as Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and the recently deceased Andrew Breitbart have done in the past. This strategy is an attempt to build resentment among working class conservatives of those they perceive as elite. 

Examples abound. Obama is an elite college professor who graduated from an Ivy League university who is out of touch with working class Americans. He wants to "remake you in his image" because he doesn't value what you do for a living. Rural America is the "real" America. He's going to take away your guns and religious freedom.  

But the culture war is a farce meant to distract from real debates about which policies would benefit Americans most. The more time we spend debating the culture war, the less focused we will be on tackling real problems, and the more divided we will be.

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Andrew Hanson

Research Analyst @ Georgetown Public Policy Institute. Interested in issues related to education and inequality. Teach For America alumnus. Studied philosophy as an undergrad; interested in political philosophy and philosophy of science.

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