Kathleen Parker
Kathleen Parker
Opinion Writer

Santorum’s failed pandering to blue-collar workers

Politicians say the darnedest things, especially when their lips are moving.

Perhaps it is on account of such a long primary season, but the more they talk, the tastier their feet. While Mitt Romney is merely guilty of saying things that make him seem disconnected from the lives of most Americans, Rick Santorum makes ideological statements that make him appear to be disconnected from the present tense.

Kathleen Parker

Parker writes a twice-weekly column on politics and culture.

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Google could create a new translation mechanism just for the former Pennsylvania senator, not for language but for meaning. For example, one could type in: “President Obama once said he wants everybody 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 [the] test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.”

Google Translation Option 1: “Candidate Santorum does not think American children should grow up to become president of the United States someday.”

Translation Option 2: “Candidate Santorum does not want American children to attend Harvard Law School lest they miss out on less-snobby skills.”

Option 3: “Candidate Santorum seems to think his audience is dumber than a box of rocks.”

Said audience did applaud, but this is because they don’t like Obama and would have cheered no matter what Santorum said about him. Also, Republican audiences these days love to hate snobs, elites and liberals. The GOP playbook recommends sprinkling these words throughout speeches to ensure applause, foot-stomping and other demonstrations of approval.

We do have a sense of what Santorum was trying to say, given that he was trying to reach a blue-collar, manufacturing constituency. He wanted to praise them for the hard, valuable contributions they make through work that requires hands-on skills. Real work, not the sort of erudite, eggheaded stuff that elites like to do. You know, like write books, study policy, run for political office, that sort of thing.

In all probability, however, even those fine folks in the audience hope their children might attend college as a leg up in the job market. Labor statistics show that, though the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is 7.7 percent, low-skilled workers are doing worse. One in 10 lost a job between 2007 and 2011, and labor analysts say that better-educated workers are reaping the benefits of the current recovery.

So why didn’t Santorum say that? Or, why didn’t he talk about legitimate concerns that colleges too often prepare young people for services rather than for building the products that made this nation great? Why ostracize the president for saying that he wanted more Americans to have better opportunities through higher education? Why, indeed, distort what Obama actually did say?

When Obama spoke about higher education, he in fact did not specifically focus on traditional college. Instead he urged Americans to commit to at least one year of some kind of higher education or career training, including attending vocational school or serving an apprenticeship. He didn’t seem to want to mold young people into his own image, though it wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to a kid.

Why, even Santorum went to college and earned advanced degrees in law and business, and look how he turned out!

What Santorum was obliquely referring to is his sense that today’s college and university campuses are hotbeds of socialism and liberal theology. Thus it has been for at least the past four decades, including when Santorum was a student at Penn State University. Somehow he managed to resist the tug of Marxism, atheism, feminism, Keynesianism and all the other -isms of GOP nightmares.

Santorum could have talked about those things and earned a rapt audience. The myth of college-for-everyone deserves to be challenged. The lack of intellectual diversity on most campus faculties deserves to be examined. He could have talked about that.

Instead, Santorum elected to pander to the idea that ignorance beats an education that might lead one to become an elite. His words, in addition to being false, were, dare we say, rather snobbish. How else to characterize speaking to people as though they aren’t capable of recognizing truth — or that their children aren’t smart enough to go to college and, grasping the flaws of liberalism, stay true to the conservative values with which they were raised?

As the elite said to the snob: Piffle.

kathleenparker@washpost.com

 
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