Let me explain. Apparently a serious candidate for a major party's nomination to the presidency of the United States seems bent on discouraging Americans from going to college ... or something like that. It's sometimes hard to figure out exactly what Rick Santorum really means, unless he's talking about gay people. He's crystal clear on that: he doesn't like them.
Maybe he doesn't want Americans going to college because they'll change their minds about gay people. The conservative wiki site, Conservapedia, citing a study of exit-poling from several years ago, sternly warns:
"The fact that the strongest predictor of support for same-sex "marriage" is level of education shows that brainwashing into professor values has a corrosive effect on morality."
It really says that. Maybe that's where Rick goes to get his info, or maybe they go to Rick to get theirs. As I say, I find him confusing.
On the other hand, maybe kids who choose to go to college are just more open-minded even before President Obama gets the chance to remake them in his image. Polling seems actually to bear that out: college freshmen are almost twice as likely as the general public to support same-sex marriage, according to a Higher Education Research Institute survey a while back. Maybe the brainwashing is just that good.
Or, maybe, Santorum really is just that crazy. As I said, sometimes it's difficult to tell.
Still, crazy as he may be, Santorum's thoughts on education did get me thinking. More accurately, the reaction of his audience got me thinking. Speaking in Troy, Michigan, over the weekend in the run up to today's Michigan primary, Santorum said:
"President Obama has said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob."
The crowd shots at that point showed folks applauding, laughing, smiling and generally nodding their heads in approval. Then came the big applause line:
"There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day, and put their skills to test, who aren't taught by some liberal college professor (who) tries 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."
Sure, it's easy to dismiss this as typical campaign fear mongering. Santorum raises the "liberal" boogie man and panders to latent American anti-intellectualism. Moreover, I certainly wouldn't expect a Republican candidate to point out or praise President Obama's personal journey of using higher education opportunities to lift himself to the highest rung of American power.
Even so, I wonder why the speech resonated with the crowd. After all, according to various surveys, 94 percent of parents believe their kids will go to college, 75 percent of Americans think college is very important, and 60 percent believe it is essential to success.
Maybe Santorum found the six percent of parents who don't think their kids will go to college.
From where I sit, ridiculously over-educated, white, middle-class, living inside-the-beltway, enjoying incredible privilege, it's easy to dismiss Santorum's supporters as ignorant and bigoted (and there are, no doubt, ignorant bigots out there who support him). But as I watched video of Santorum's speech, I couldn't help wondering what the people are afraid of.
I'm convinced that what they're afraid of is the future.
While Troy is a relatively affluent suburb of Detroit, it's still, well, a suburb of Detroit. That is to say, it sits in one of the country's most hard-hit areas economically, and in a place whose people had, at the depth of the recession, just about the most negative economic outlook in the nation.
Going to college is an inherently optimistic decision because it is almost always about hope for the future. Maybe Santorum's supporters consider that snobbish because they are so busy longing for a past -- not "the" past that actually happened, but "a" past that they imagine.
I feel for them in their fear, but I do not wish to join them in that imagined past. Talk about scary.