Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rick Santorum, Higher Education, and the Jacksonian Politics of Liberty and Respect

by Michael Kaplan

Rick Santorum speaking at the Americans for Prosperity Michigan Forum, February 25, 2012

I’m a college professor and proud to be one. I teach American history at a technical college which is part of a state university system. I believe in the value of higher education and that it should be an option for those young, and not so young, men and women who have the desire and ability to pursue it. So now I’m going to do something that might seem bold and daring: I’m going to stand up for Rick Santorum who has taken a pounding in the liberal and establishment Republican media for his controversial views of higher education. Here’s why.

First let me say that I do have some meaningful political differences with Senator Santorum, especially on social issues. He is more socially conservative than I am. I believe that women should have access to contraception, though I agree with Santorum that it should not be a government entitlement. I believe that homosexuals should have the same rights as other Americans, but that gay and lesbian relationships should receive social and legal sanction through civil unions; I’m enough of a traditionalist to believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. I believe in the traditional American, conservative, and Jacksonian values of hard work, self-reliance, faith, community, patriotism, personal responsibility, and American exceptionalism. Unlike Senator Santorum I believe that these values are not incompatible with sexual freedom. He does not appreciate the extent to which America’s core middle-class Jacksonian culture has been broadened, enriched and transformed in very positive and liberating ways by the Aquarian sexual revolution. That said, I’m drawn to Rick Santorum because he, more than any of the remaining candidates in this year’s presidential contest, is the strongest and most articulate champion of Jacksonian America and its idea of liberty.

The politics of conservative Jacksonian America are the politics of honor, liberty, and respect. The honor and respect due to those Americans who get up every day and do the tough and demanding jobs that make America work. The liberty of those Americans to live their lives as they choose, to be the masters of their destiny. Jacksonian politics are also identity politics: validating the heartland identity of honorable, productive, self-reliant, patriotic Americans, and validating their anger and resentment against those elites who don’t accord such Americans the respect they deserve and who are trying to limit the scope of their liberty. These are important truths about Jacksonian America that Rick Santorum clearly understands and taps into.

This helps make sense of the former Pennsylvania senator’s otherwise bizarre and confounding foot-in-the-mouth comment calling President Obama a snob for wanting all Americans to go to college. Santorum made these remarks at The Americans for Prosperity Forum in Troy, Michigan on Saturday February 25 to a very receptive audience that burst into applause as he spoke. Here is a video clip of Santorum’s comment. Here is a clip from an alternate version of the speech delivered in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Rick Santorum is a take-no-prisoners culture warrior. That is both his strength and his weakness. His Jacksonian populism is a passionate language of the heart; there are no pale pastels for Rick, only bold colors. (See Ronald Reagan, CPAC 1975.)  “He seems to imagine America’s problems can best be described as the result of a culture war between the God-fearing conservatives and the narcissistic liberals,” David Brooks has written. This has set the tone for his 2012 presidential campaign, making for a sharp contrast with Mitt Romney. Romney, sad to say, comes across as a passionless, verbally-challenged technocrat, who hasn’t the first clue about how to connect with Jacksonian America. Which is why the “inevitable” front runner, who would be a competent manager of the economy, has been unable to close the deal with the Jacksonian conservative base of the Republican Party. In fact, while the Republican Party has since the 1960s become the party of Jacksonian America, it has not done a good job responding to its concerns about a nation that has gone astray: about an economy that no longer seems to have a place for Jacksonians who work with their hands and did not go to college; about the disintegration of traditional values, families, and communities. For many Jacksonians, including Santorum, this election is not just about reviving the economy; Santorum has offered a pro-growth and pro-family Economic Freedom Agenda. It is, more importantly, about returning America to her core values of liberty, community, Judeo-Christian morality, and limited government, which they believe are under assault by President Obama’s big government overreach symbolized by the Affordable Health Care Act otherwise known as ObamaCare. Rick Santorum has said that 2012 election is about fundamental liberty; he would not be in the presidential race were it not for ObamaCare.

If you want to understand Santorum’s “what a snob” comment, you need to place it in the context of his entire speech, which is largely an exposé of Rick Santorum’s passionate belief in American exceptionalism. Here is the C-Span video of the full 26-minute speech. Santorum gave a 55-minute version of the speech later that day at the Chattanooga Tea Party’s Liberty Forum in Tennessee.


America’s greatness, Santorum argues, rests not on her military, her form of government, or her economy, important as those are. American exceptionalism rather rests on her civil society, the respect it accords the dignity of every human life, and the freedom and opportunity it offers for every individual to realize his or her potential. David Brooks observes that “one of Santorum’s strengths is that he understands that a nation isn’t just an agglomeration of individuals; it’s a fabric of social relationships.” Starting in the seventeenth century America’s vibrant civil society, its strong families, businesses, churches, and civic organizations, was built by free people from the bottom up, community by community. It was not created by the diktat from on high of an all-powerful central government which could allocate resources and assign people into a hierarchy of social classes. The American colonies were founded not by the king but by private entrepreneurs: individual settlers and families seeking economic independence and communities of faith seeking to build a Godly society. Colonial America, as it developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was a society of independent householders bound together in strong communities, which developed habits and institutions of self-government. Religious pluralism, a voluntaristic self-help ethic, a relatively high standard of living, and a belief in individual aspiration to upward mobility, what Alexis de Tocqueville would later call “the charm of anticipated success,” also defined the society of British North America, and after 1783 of the independent United States, making it the freest and most prosperous on earth. That Santorum says is the secret of America and why other countries have found it hard to emulate America’s success. “[I]n the last dozen years we’ve tried to help other countries be like America. But they . . . can’t quite do what we do. Because we are different, we are exceptional. And we’ve done it, we did it, from the foundation the right way. We’ve believed in free people.”(3:24-3:49)

The problem now, as Santorum sees it, is that too many Americans are being lured by the siren song of entitlements and bludgeoned by government policy into surrendering their liberty to an ever more powerful blue model progressive welfare state. The blue model’s professional, technocratic elites believe they can offer you a progressive nirvana. They can manage your life better than you can and manage the economy in such a way that they can take care of you and all your needs through the entitlements of the nanny state. And should the carrot of entitlements fail to lure you in, then bureaucrats will use the power of government to compel you to surrender your liberty to them. ObamaCare is the game changer that will rob Americans of their essential freedoms, empowering the government and its elites to tell you how to live your life and how to manage your health and limit your choices. “It is the ultimate top-down I know better than you do.” (6:30)

Santorum speaks an evocative language filled with moral urgency to emphasize the threat to American liberty as he sees it. At Grace Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa, Santorum told an audience of several hundred that ObamaCare was like an addictive drug being pushed by elite technocrats on an unsuspecting public. “That’s how they see you, as people, to get hooked like a drug dealer, someone to become dependent on them and once that happens, they got you. America is changed forever. No country that has socialized medicine has ever gone back the other way, no country that has lost its freedom has ever regained it.” Santorum added that “they believe in a pre-Revolutionary America where the elite should decide what’s best for those in flyover country.” This is a Jacksonian language whose image of freedom is best captured by the flag on which a coiled rattlesnake rests above the motto “Don’t tread on me.” This flag, a symbol of the American Revolution, was designed by South Carolina’s Colonel Christopher Gadsden in 1775. Today it is a symbol of the Tea Party.


Dan Henninger of the Wall Street Journal, who attended a Santorum rally in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, observes that under the Obama administration the blue model progressive welfare state has crossed a Rubicon, a point of no return in which big government has jumped the shark. “A lot of people feel the government, finally, is really starting to crowd them. It has made them uneasy. For the Santorum audience, the call-and-response word to push back against the unease is ‘freedom.’” Henninger contends that it is Santorum’s embrace of this Jacksonian vision of freedom which has captured the imagination of the populist conservative base and propelled his campaign forward so that he is now a serious contender for the Republican nomination. America, Santorum proclaims, is overregulated and hooked on entitlement programs as dangerous as the most deadly street drugs. Liberty cannot survive, a free people cannot remain free, if they become dependent on government entitlements for their sustenance. You cannot be free if you expect a free lunch. More than any other candidate Rick Santorum has linked the survival of American freedom as traditionally understood to the defeat of ObamaCare and the broader big government policy agenda of the Obama administration.

It is the fundamental disrespect by elite technocrats and bureaucrats for average Americans, their abilities, their competence, their aspirations, and their passion for liberty that Santorum believes is behind the idea that everyone must go to college or be consigned to second-class citizenship. Many Americans have neither the desire to go to college nor the academic ability to benefit from higher education. As a college professor teaching American history, I’ve known such students who are wasting their time in my classroom. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything of value to contribute to society. For these students, vocational or technical education would be far more valuable than a traditional liberal arts education. Germany, the very birthplace of modern higher education, has successfully promoted technical and vocational education through an apprenticeship system. Individuals have a variety of gifts and abilities and these should be nurtured and allowed to grow. That is what the pursuit of happiness is all about. People should not be forced into a rigid academic mold. It is from the wide variety of God-given talents, interests, and abilities that a free society enables its citizens to develop that generates innovation, social dynamism, and economic prosperity. To insist that it is only through going to college that a young man or woman can become a person of value really is, as Santorum proclaimed at the AFP Forum with more passion than diplomacy, the height of elite snobbery.
I know what manufacturing means to a community. I grew up in one. I understand what it means to have folks who are at the bottom of the economic ladder. Folks who are struggling to pull the skills together to be able to get value in the marketplace for their skills. And I know what it means to have those manufacturing jobs at those entry levels that get you in there and gives you the opportunity to accumulate more skills over time and rise. So you can provide a better standard of living for your family. And that those opportunities are for working men and women. Not all folks are gifted in the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands. Some people have incredible gifts and use and want to work out there making things. 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. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his. (14:24-16:01)
In this passage Santorum delivers the red meat of Jacksonian politics: calling to account those elite technocrats who disrespect the average American and look upon those who did not graduate college as boobus americanus. Caught up in the passion of the moment Santorum let loose a cry from the heart tailor made to provoke the outrage of the liberal media, and even quite a few conservative commentators. Frankly Santorum would have been better served had he phrased his comments more carefully, making it clear that he was not opposed to Americans having the opportunity to advance themselves through higher education. Many Americans, including many working- and middle-class Jacksonians, still look to college as the entry way to a successful life. Santorum did elaborate on his remarks in interviews with Sean Hannity and Chris Wallace on Fox News, saying that he wanted to promote trade school and military service among other options that young people could choose to pursue. Americans could manage their own lives quite well, Santorum insisted, without President Obama issuing a top-down directive that they must go to college. The president, Santorum added, should promote equality of opportunity, not force equality of results.

To be fair, President Obama did explain to the National Governors Association that he included apprenticeship and vocational training in his vision of higher education. Americans need “some basic training beyond what they received in high school” if they hope to compete for the jobs of the twenty-first century. Again in the interests of fairness, Senator Santorum acknowledged to Chris Wallace that he might have misunderstood the president’s position. “Look, maybe I’ve read some comments where at least it was characterized that the president said we should go to four-year colleges,” he said. “If I was in error, you said you haven’t found that, I certainly read that . . . if it was an error, I agree with the president that we should have options for a variety of training.” Karen Santorum also let her husband know that his passion had gotten the better of him when he called the president a snob and he needed to dial down his rhetoric. Rick Santorum said of his wife on the March 11 edition of Meet the Press: “She’s a very good governor for me and tries to make sure that I keep things in perspective.”

In addressing the issue of higher education, Santorum is running headlong into the challenge posed by globalization to the American dream of economic independence through small property ownership. Throughout his campaign Santorum has insisted that America must find paths for upward mobility other than higher education. At a campaign stop in Iowa last November, when he alone crisscrossed the state by bus, Santorum told a small gathering of potential supporters, “We have lost a sector of our economy that used to employ, in large numbers and in good-paying jobs, people who are not college educated. And that is the manufacturing and processing sector of our economy.” He added that “we need to have policies that are not government top-down but do recognize that there are people being left behind in our economy, and we need to make sure that they have opportunities, too.”

David Brooks suggests that Santorum is struggling to find a new synthesis of social and economic conservatism, of Jacksonianism and Hamiltonianism; a synthesis that balances and reconciles the creative destruction of capitalism with the timeless values, social stability, and morality of Judeo-Christian faith.
Santorum understands that we have to fuse economics talk and values talk. But he hasn’t appreciated that the biggest challenge to stable families, healthy communities and the other seedbeds of virtue is not coastal elites. It’s technological change; it’s globalization; it’s personal mobility and expanded opportunity; it’s an information-age economy built on self-transformation and perpetual rebranding instead of fixed inner character. It is the very forces that give us the dynamism and opportunities in the first place.
There’s a paradox at the heart of the American experiment. The very success of American capitalism, its creation of mass abundance, the opportunities it provides for self-transformation and the limitless pursuit of wealth, weakens the social and cultural foundations which made American prosperity possible. Community, family, faith, and traditional morality are in danger of being swept away in the flood tide of global capitalism’s creative destruction. Karl Marx, for all his utopian delusions, saw this dynamic at work in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. Writing in The Communist Manifesto in 1848, Marx proclaimed:
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
Santorum understands that the people he speaks for—the Jacksonian working and middle classes—are being left behind in the new global economy. Charles Murray’s research has found that working-class communities are disintegrating along with the social capital that makes success in America possible. Brink Lindsey argues that the twin hammer blows of globalization and the Aquarian counterculture sent the more vulnerable members of the Jacksonian working class down the rabbit hole of social dysfunction. All that was solid in their lives is melting into air and all that is holy in their lives is being profaned. Concern for the economic future of these hard-working Americans, finding solutions that don’t involve big government, along with reviving traditional faith, families, industriousness, and communities, are the passions that drive Rick Santorum in his seemingly quixotic quest for the White House. Such solutions will inevitably involve some form of post-high school education.

Voters look over conservative memorabilia at the Americans for Prosperity Michigan Forum.  Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Judging from the response of the audience at the AFP Forum, many of whom were Tea Party supporters, Santorum did hit his mark. Many of Santorum’s listeners agreed with the candidate that college, whatever its benefits, was too often used for ideological indoctrination and social engineering. “It starts down at the elementary school level with all this bullshit about diversity, pardon my French,” said Stephen Clement of Commerce, Michigan. “Diversity and sensitivity and all that crap. That’s the stuff that needs to be taught at home not by my teachers. My teachers need to be academic: Math, science, history, social studies, that sort of thing and keep political opinions out of it, bottom line.” Elizabeth (no last name), another Santorum supporter, added: “I think he’s saying, ‘Do you think that that’s the only way you can be a successful person? To go to college?’ That is snobbery. In this entrepreneurial country that we have, where fortunes are made in a lot of ways—they’re not only made by college-educated people.” More than a few at the forum agreed that colleges and universities are using the language of equal opportunity to hide the reality that they nothing more than socialism factories. Jacksonian suspicion that intellectuals and academics are up to no good runs deep.

Santorum’s comments and the favorable response they drew from his audience, illustrate the real tension between Jacksonian populism and intellectualism in American life and politics. Anti-intellectualism has been a persistent theme of Jacksonian populism while arrogant condescension toward the American people has too often been part of academic elite culture. Michael Barone discussed this tension in the context of the 2008 election campaign, presenting a sharp political and cultural divide between Jacksonians and those he labeled “Academics.” Differing views of patriotism and military virtue are at the heart of the conflict. Jacksonians are fighters while intellectuals are writers. As a campaign slogan for the self-educated Andrew Jackson in his electoral contest with former Harvard professor John Quincy Adams in 1824 put it:

For President
John Quincy Adams,
Who can write,
Andrew Jackson,
Who can fight

This populist suspicion of intellectuals and other elites can be traced back to the early days of the republic. The Scots-Irish settlers of the backcountry had a particular hatred for the intellectual elites of Old and New England. They were a high spirited and sensual but economically hard pressed people, who had neither opportunity for nor saw much value in book learning. Senator James Webb, one of the small number of Jacksonians still in the Democratic Party, wrote in his book Born Fighting, that the Scots-Irish “were not monks and nuns” nor “were they Talmudic scholars. Most of them had little or no schooling, knew no refined trade, and had read no book except perhaps the Bible.” On the Borders of England and Scotland, the marches of Ulster, and the backcountry of the Carolinas, fighting was a far more highly valued skill than writing. And the Scots-Irish were fierce fighters indeed, driven by a love of liberty and equality, their code of honor, and their refusal to submit to any authority they deemed illegitimate. These were not people who took kindly to condescension, nor were they likely to be swayed by the nuanced arguments of intellectual discourse. “And if any man, no matter how highly born, should strike or offend them, it was their credo to strike back twice as hard.” These character traits are very much part of Jacksonian populist culture today. And Rick Santorum knows how to appeal to them. The AFP speech, indeed the entire Santorum campaign, is a case study in the Jacksonian politics of honor and respect.

Andrew Jackson Who Can Fight

In fact, as Clive Crook of Bloomberg Businessweek points out, “the source of Santorum’s appeal is his skill at waging class warfare, Republican-style.” Santorum always returns in his speeches to his Italian immigrant grandfather, Pietro Santorum, who worked first in the auto factories of Detroit and then in the coal mines of southwestern Pennsylvania. “He ended up continuing to work in those mines until he was 72 years old, digging coal,” Santorum said through tears in his victory speech after the Iowa Caucus. “I’ll never forget the first time I saw someone who had died. It was my grandfather. And I knelt next to his coffin, and all I could do at eye level was look at his hands. They were enormous hands. And all I could think was, ‘Those hands dug freedom for me.’” This is Jacksonian populism’s true language of the heart. “Santorum,” Crook writes, “combines this proletarian stance—unusual in a hard-right conservative—with more familiar elements of GOP populism: patriotism, reverence for family, hard work and self-reliance, hostility to big government, and proud religiosity (to a fault, in his case).” He adds that it is only Santorum’s “extremism on sexual politics” that prevents his Jacksonianism of the heart from appealing beyond his social conservative base.

The Whiskey Rebellion, 1794.  Frontiersmen tar and feather a tax collector.

The west Pennsylvania coal country, where the Santorum family made its home, has a long history of Jacksonian populist politics and culture. In 1926, the year after Pietro Santorum came to America, the historian Herman Hailperin observed that “Western Pennsylvania from its first settlement was peculiarly ‘frontier’ in spirit. The very people who predominated possessed the inborn qualities of fearlessness, independence and keen common sense.” The Scots-Irish who settled the region, Hailperin added, resisted all attempts by elites to encroach on their liberty. Indeed western Pennsylvanians launched the first serious resistance to the new federal government’s authority to impose taxes in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. “A people with such characteristics, pioneer in their very essence, were already attuned to the call of frontier and western democracy.” Later settlers, such as the Italian immigrant Santorum family, assimilated this culture of liberty. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there were a series of violent strikes in the Pennsylvania coal country, the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 being the most important. In that strike the United Mine Workers won a ten percent wage hike and a reduction of their workday to nine hours, though they failed to gain recognition for their union. It was seen as a breakthrough victory for labor because President Theodore Roosevelt pushed the mine owners to accept an arbitrated settlement instead of sending in the army to break up the strike. Rick Santorum is the heir to this long tradition of Pennsylvania Jacksonianism that speaks for the blue-collar folk who feel put upon by big government and big business.

Coal miners working deep underground, 1911.  Pennsylvania Coal Company shaft #6, South Pittston, PA.

Santorum’s family history shows that he is not hostile to higher education. How could he be? The Santorum family story, a classic example of the American dream, is one of using higher education as the road to upward mobility. His father, Dr. Aldo Santorum, who served in the Army Air Corps in World War II repairing airplanes, was able to avoid a life in the coal mines by getting a college education on the G.I. Bill. Aldo Santorum would later earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Ottawa. But instead of going into private practice Dr. Santorum spent his career as a clinical psychologist with the Veterans Administration, devoting himself to the very Jacksonian project of healing his fellow veterans of the psychic wounds they suffered in the service of their country. Rick Santorum would earn, in addition to a B.A., an M.B.A. and a J.D., giving him one more degree than President Obama. He has achieved considerable success, financially and otherwise, as a lawyer, lobbyist, and politician. Higher education allowed Rick Santorum and his family to live the American dream. For the reliably progressive Eugene Robinson this just shows that Santorum is a shameless hypocrite who wants to pull up the ladder of higher education now that he’s benefitted from it. Again this just shows how out of touch Robinson is with Jacksonian America. Santorum does not want to deny young Americans the opportunity to pursue higher education; he does want to show that it’s not the only path young Americans must follow to live productive lives. To call Rick Santorum an enemy of higher education, as any number of progressive critics are doing, is patently absurd.

Nonetheless, Santorum has expressed serious concerns with higher education’s secular progressive challenge to traditional America. He’s made it clear that in his view contemporary academia is guilty of intellectual hubris, a view that plays into Jacksonian America’s anti-intellectual bias. Parts of conservative Jacksonian America share Santorum’s belief that Satan is working through academia, the media, and popular culture to undermine America’s values, institutions, and traditions. Speaking at Ave Maria University in Florida in August 2008, Santorum told the students that Satan “attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions. The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first successful was in academia.” This was because Satan knows how to use intellectual pride and arrogance to corrupt the intellectuals. “He attacked them at their weakest, that they were, in fact, smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different. Pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they’re smart. And so academia, a long time ago, fell.”

Santorum’s imagery of Satan running amok on campus was extreme to say the least, though he was making the point at a Catholic religious institution. But it does reflect conservative Jacksonian fears that liberal professors are trying to indoctrinate their children and turn them against God, family, and country. Alan Charles Kors, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the minority of conservatives in higher education, wrote an article on “The Sadness of Higher Education” that backed up Santorum’s argument, minus Satan.
Academics, in their own minds, face an almost insoluble problem of time. How, in only four years, can they disabuse students of the notion that the capital, risk, productivity and military sacrifice of others have contributed to human dignity and to the prospects of a decent society? How can they make them understand, with only four years to do so, that capitalism and individualism have created cultures that are cruel, inefficient, racist, sexist and homophobic, with oppressive caste systems, mental and behavioral? How, in such a brief period, can they enlighten “minorities,” including women (the majority of students), about the “internalization” of their oppression (today’s equivalent of false consciousness)? How, in only eight semesters, might they use the classroom, curriculum and university in loco parentis to create a radical leadership among what they see as the victim groups of our society, and to make the heirs of successful families uneasy in the moral right of their possessions and opportunities? Given those constraints, why in the world should they complicate their awesome task by hiring anyone who disagrees with them?
Kors spent his long career fighting for intellectual diversity in an increasingly liberal academia. Further on he writes that universities should have the courage of their convictions and honestly advertise their bias to prospective students and their parents. “Let colleges and universities have the courage, if they truly believe what they say privately to themselves and to me, to put it on page one of their catalogues, fundraising letters and appeals to the state assembly: ‘This University believes that your sons and daughters are the racist, sexist, homophobic, Eurocentric progeny or victims of an oppressive society from which most of them receive unjust privilege. In return for tuition and massive taxpayer subsidy, we shall assign rights on a compensatory basis and undertake by coercion their moral and political enlightenment.’ It won’t happen.” Kors concludes with deep regret that much of the promise of higher education has been lost to political correctness.

From my own experience in academia, I believe that Santorum and Kors exaggerate the situation. Yes there is a liberal bias in academia but it is far from monolithic. While conservatives are in the minority in the academy, they are hardly inconsequential; the college where I teach has more than a few conservative faculty members. And students are far less susceptible to ideological indoctrination than their parents or Senator Santorum may fear. I’ve found students to have well-honed b.s. detectors that fend off the most dedicated professorial ideologue. Yet Kors is right to point out that hack work and groupthink are too often the norm in higher education while free inquiry is too often discouraged.

But none of this lessens the importance of post-high school education in today’s world. Sadly, Rick Santorum’s championship of working-class people who acquire skills and put them to the test in the old blue-collar manufacturing jobs runs against the grain of history. “Manufacturing may well come back to the United States to some degree,” Walter Russell Mead notes, “but it will be capital intensive, automated manufacturing. Armies of blue collar assembly line workers won’t be making middle class livelihoods from unskilled factory work.” It is increasingly clear that those who have the high-level analytical skills, skill developed through higher education, are going to be the big winners in the new world of global capitalism. “Globalization and rapid technological change,” former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich writes, “are putting a premium on the ability to identify and solve new problems—the skill that’s honed in college. A college degree also signals prospective employers that a young person has what it takes to succeed.” But that really applies more to graduates of elite universities. The average college graduate from a public university is now facing many of the same job insecurities as his or her blue-collar peers with the additional burden of student loan debt.

Jacksonian America’s anti-intellectualism has not served it well in the new world of globalization. Contemporary Jacksonians’ hostility to the intellectual and cultural elites is intensified by their sense that they are being left behind; by their inability “to take proper advantage of the new economy’s immense possibilities.” Brink Lindsey of the libertarian Cato Institute has written that certain elements of Jacksonian culture are just not suited for success in the modern world of high technology and symbolic analytical work. “[M]any Americans have been raised in a working-class culture that does not sufficiently encourage education or long-term planning. As a result, they lack the skills that are now so highly rewarded—and what is worse, they lack the capacity to develop those skills.” Jacksonian working-class culture with its emphasis on the value and dignity of those who worked with their hands to produce the tangible goods that society needed, was well-suited to agrarian and industrial America. Whether on a farm or in a factory, a strong back, skilled hands, and the self-discipline and perseverance to use them, could lead to economic self-sufficiency and upward mobility. This is no longer the case in the twenty-first century. “Consequently,” as Lindsey observes, “the anti-intellectual mentality that remains deeply engrained in large segements of the American populace has become a socio-economic dead end.” Jacksonians have good reason to be suspicious of the intellectual and technocratic elites that hold them in contempt. They can no longer afford a bias against education.

Rick Santorum is right to insist that college is not the only path to acquiring the skills to get out of that dead end. But he has to lay out policies that will encourage vocational and technical education, while restoring America’s core values. The odds are against Santorum winning the Republican nomination or becoming president. But if he does pull it off, it will be because will have convinced the hard-working people of Jacksonian America, about whom he cares so deeply and whose culture of liberty and respect he shares, that he can show them the way to move forward and compete in the new and very challenging world of the twenty-first century while remaining true to America’s founding ideals.

© 2012 Michael Kaplan

15 comments:

  1. Interesting, but his far right social conservatism would lose him the presidency.

    Nice to see a conservative in academia, by the way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You might be right about that. The country is not as socially conservative as many on the right think.

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    2. Maybe not, but the country is closer to Santorum on social issues than to Obama. Now, whether or not people have full knowledge of what positions all politicians actually take is another matter altogether.

      By the way, Jacksonian Americans resent elitists who define for them what is good moral and social behavior and then compel them to agree or be labeled bigoted ignoramuses. Santorum touches on a truth that is not limited to economic freedom. It extends to religious and academic freedom too.

      Thanks for the thoughtful and thought provoking article.

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    3. Yes, anti-elitism is at the heart of Jacksonian populism. H. L. Mencken in the 1920s called Jacksonians "boobus americanus" which pretty much sums up what elitists thought then and now. That's Bill Maher's riff today. Respect for the intelligence, sensibilities, and capacity for self-government of average Americans is the whole point of Jacksonian democracy from Andrew Jackson's time until today. And you're right that it does extend to religious and academic freedom.

      Glad you liked the piece.

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  2. Bravo. I hope your students know how lucky they are. Your analysis and linkage with historical precedents and continuing threads in American history and culture was refreshing as well as informative. I must admit that I had not thought of Santorum's appeal in quite this way, perhaps because of my personal negativity towards our seventh President. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to reading other posts as I have time in the coming weeks. BTW, if more of our 'leaders' had read (and absorbed) de Tocqueville, we might not be in our current straits.

    Regarding the bias among college professors, my alma mater (UNC) could not find a conservative history/poli sci professor for a symposium, and had to borrow one from Duke for the occasion a few years back.

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    1. I hope my students know how lucky they are too. lol. I try to show them the connections between the past and the present, how we really are shaped by history. Thomas Jefferson believed that an educated citizenry was necessary in a self-governing republic.

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    2. I've applied to stay on at my school's Sixth Form to do three A-Levels. But I was recently looking around a local college website on the Higher Education courses, a Social Studies one which is four years long. You do two years at college doing four subjects, then two years at a University majoring in two.

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  3. Michael,

    Another great analysis! It seems you're in a good position there in that conservatives appear to have equal footing at your facility, something I saw was sadly lacking where my 2 oldest daughters went to school (USF). My oldest was brainwashed (sorry, I can't resist the word. LOL!) into rampant liberalism while my middle daughter fought it to the hilt and was at least in my eyes penalized for her views by some professors. Not the first time we've heard this for sure and it won't be the last. Yet, as you point out there are many schools out there still that walk the line correctly allowing all sides of an argument.

    Still, college is not the right fit for all people. Do I wish I had gone to college? Yes, because as you state at the outset of your piece I have the will and desire to persue it. I had to choose something else way back when, running the family business and then raising a family. Still, I fought my way through. And as such, I'm hoping all of my grandkids can go to college, if they want! And that's really my problem with the "everyone has a right to go to college crowd".

    From my little vantage point of the world, the education system is now turning out way to many kids who cannot even perform at an eight grade level. As you know, many universities have to now offer remedial course just to get these kids up top a level to where they can begin to function. Is this what universities should be for?

    Yes, Santorum is right in saying college is not the only path. But as you also state, someone has to lay out "policies that will encourage vocational and technical education, while restoring America’s core values". and that is really the main crux of what has to be done in this country.

    I think you've figured out by now and in past responses where I come from on these issues (LOL!). Your treatise above is superb. If anyone can pull this off, the country will be able to relax a bit. Adhering to our core values combined with a willingness to face the challenges ahead,. That is what we are about as a people and I hope in the end is what I perceive as the Jacksonian American (granted, I'm still learning here). And yes, I believe deeply that the Jacksonian American is deeply suspicious of Academia, something that in many cases they have brought unto themselves.

    As stated above, I do believe your students are lucky. I myself have learned so much from your writings and you know i enjoy them immensely. Keep it up! With teachers like you, people that can almost bring it to life, the kids are in good hands.

    Joe

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    1. Joe,

      Glad you enjoyed the essay. It took me a while to work through some writers' block and write it. I hope my students think they're lucky to have the opportunity to go to college and advance themselves. Unfortunately I fear that too many are not putting in the time and effort needed to get educated and make the most of their opportunities. I'm sure your daughters did apply themselves, even at the risk of being brainwashed by rampant liberals.

      I don't make any secret of my conservative political views in class, but I don't impose my views either. I'm interested in all points of view my students might have, anything other than blissing out on their iPods and Blackberrys. LOL!

      You're right about how our education system is failing. Too many students are graduating high school and even college unable to right a coherent sentence! I tell them that I'm looking for well thought out and well written essays, not text message or Twitter speak. This is not entirely the teachers' fault. The education system can't make up for defecits in the family and community. Anyway, I keep on fighting the good fight in the hope that some of what I teach will rub off on the students and that they can go on to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

      At some point I should try to find a way to make use of the blog in class. Perhaps they'll be able to get as much out of the posts as you do.

      As you gathered from the post I like Santorum the best of the remaining candidates. But I'm not optimistic that any of the Republicans will be able to win this year. But one should never underestimate America's ability to renew itself, despite the failures of any one administration.

      Michael

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  4. Rick Santorum has NEVER said that women shouldn't have access to birth control, he has stated from the very beginning that his objection is to taxpayer funding of birth control. What's more, Santorum has never, ever been in favor of denying gays and lesbians equal protection under the law. Santorum's former senate aide, an openly gay man has stated on more than one occasion during this election, when interviewed on MSNBC and other networks who hoped he'd trash Santorum, that Rick Santorum, and his family treated him with the utmost respect, he was always treated fairly, he stated that Santorum's personally held religous beliefs were sincere, and he stands up for first amendment rights protections, just as he would stand up and fight for the constitutional rights of EVERY American, gay, lesbian, black, brown, white, across the board. Santorum is the one candidate running who is truly committed to upholding the constitution, the framework of our government.

    We've heard the term, "jobs of the future" from the time of the Clinton administration, after he illegally signed the NAFTA treaty, despite it never getting the constitutionally required 2/3 majority votes in the senate (NAFTA never legally passed, it's not enforceable) One can't help but notice the left that perpetuate that fraud, don't seem to consider those jobs we're told we don't need any more, still exist, and make products that are imported and sold in the US, from Mexico and China. Billions of US citizens had their jobs taken from them, those jobs and their wealth creation were sent to Mexico, China and since then, to Brazil, India, and elsewhere. They were told they needed to be "educated and trained" for the "jobs of the future", yet shortly thereafter, citizens who had the education, skills and training, were fired from their jobs, and replaced by foreign labor, who were cheaper, but did NOT have that education, skills and training. The palaver about Americans needing "education" to take those jobs is a distraction, an attempt to distract from what the democrats are doing. Just as Clinton, after imposing NAFTA, and MFN status with China, changed how the US keeps track of unemployment numbers, and Clinton also introduced the meme of "stopped looking for work", to describe citizens who fall off the unemployment rolls, because their unemployment benefits run out, and are no longer counted. Clinton needed to have a means to put the onus of responsibility for all the long term unemployed there was going to be, because of his corrupt policies, on the victims of NAFTA and MFN status with China.. so paint the unemployed as having, 'given up' looking for work. I'm disappointed that you accept these flimsy excuses without applying any clear, linear thought to them, especially given your doctorate, with all that education to hand, that you should be able to call upon.

    I always find it amusing, that the very left that has been the enemy of equal and all rights from it's very inception, who seek the imposition of the plantation slavery state, like to present themselves as the grand high poohbahs of rights. It was the GOP, the republican party that outlawed slavery, that freed the slaves, it was the democrats who opposed them, and started a war to keep slavery legal. It was the democrat party who formed the KKK, and later wrote the Jim Crow laws, it was the GOP who fought the KKK and overturned the Jim Crow laws. In 1878, it was a member of the GOP, a republican senator who introduced the legislation that would become the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. It was the democrat party that fought for forty years to prevent that law being passed, who fought to deny women the right to vote. It was only the republicans gaining the majority and the presidency that passed that legislation and it became the 19th amendment.

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  5. Continued from above
    All that palaver about the 'aquarian' age. The 'counterculture' created nothing than a sense of entitlement to regress to infancy for it's spoiled brat participants. The protesters of the "occupy movement", with their public defecation are a perfect example of this. Look at what the 'counterculture' can call it's achievements.. alcoholism, drug addiction, abused women, men, children, slavery, exploitation, imposition of dire poverty, massive homelessness, war, genocide, disease. They in their willful indifference, based on their being mad at daddy, have become what they claimed they were activist against. They're a disease.

    Santorum and true Jacksonians don't dismiss our government in US exceptionalism, they know full well that our constitution, our bill of rights, is part of what enables our civil society, just as the left exemplify what contempt for our constitution and bill of rights, translates to, contempt for civil society.. again, look at the left and their hypocrisy and vile nature. Likewise, standing up for the family, does not equate to giving short shrift to the economy, or other important issues. Leftist academics, don't always outright insult conservatives, some times they attempt a more subtle route, as in the case of an academic who attempts to play the part of the thoughtful, 'moderate' who really likes a particular conservative, but who misrepresents the conservative candidate's position, to discredit him, claiming he wants to deprive women of their access to birth control, or views gays and lesbians as not deserving equal protection.

    Now, Doctor Kaplan, you claim Romney would be good for the economy, but he's just not able to come across well to voters.. I'm curious as to what you base that claim on? As an academic, you're supposed to base theories, premises on reason. Given Romney's record, at Bain and as one term governor of Massachusetts, it's laughable to infer that he would be anything but as destructive to the economy as Obama. Romney's record isn't one of making sound business decisions at Bain, Romney ran Bain to act as his school of locusts, to takeover companies and devour all the resources and assets, to lay waste to everything and leave destroyed communities and lives as well as debt behind. Bain was not merely seeking to invest in businesses and make them more "efficient". The only businesses that survived Bain, did so because owners, or those who bought them from Bain, saved them from Bain, or fought back and won. Romney would take out loans in each company Bain would takeover, that the taxpayers would have to make good on, after Bain walked away from each despoiled company, just as the taxpayer had to take care of the pension funds Romney and Bain looted. Romney loved TARP and stimulus funds bailouts Obama pushed, because Romney took hundreds of billions worth of those bailouts.

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  6. Continued from above

    While running for governor, Romney adjusted his message depending on who his audience was, like Obama did. During his first few days in taking office, Romney raised taxes almost $400 million dollars worth, not because of any crisis. He would raise taxes 6 additional times during his single term. He raised fees, he and a radical crony wrote and pushed through a cap and trade law for the state, which drove businesses out of the state, including Massachusetts much treasured tech industries. The cap and trade law was a money maker for RINO and leftist cronies. Romneycare has been a burden to US taxpayers, and has caused the costs of health care for those who have private insurance or who pay out of pocket in Massachusetts. The hardest hit in Massachusetts are the lower and middle middle classes, who live in that middle ground area, neither rich or poor, as well as small businesses, who used to or still provide health care for their employees, it's become unbelievable expensive, with insurance costs rising several thousand dollars every year or so. Romney ran for governor, because he wanted to use the office as a stepping stone to the presidency. He viewed those who voted for him, and conservatives who supported him initially as disposable, he has contempt for people who he can't use, as well as those he uses. He has contempt for the United States, and only seeks the presidency, to loot and despoil the US, and it's resources, as he did to all those companies he looted and despoiled through Bain. He is Obama. The fact is, Obama can snap Romney, during a one on one debate, because Romney not only serves as an affirmation of Obama's foul policies, but because of Romney's corrupt practices, which being spoken out about by Obama, would no longer be swept under the rug, and would ruin Romney. It doesn't matter that Obama is guilty of the same, the media won't report that. Romney will make a deal to help Obama win, if he hasn't already done that. Voting for Romney is voting for Obama.


    I'm curious about something, Doctor Kaplan, is it because you get so few students who question, that you assume that people who read blogs are likewise not inquisitive? After reading your piece here, it seems more as though you're actually a promoting Romney as GOP nominee, and rationalizing the real harms Obama is committing as 'survivable" when the truth is what Obama is doing, will not be easily overturned unless he's removed from office this election. I was the beneficiary not only of a father who loved history and promoted the value of the need to understand and learn from history, but also of some wonderful history teachers throughout my education, the best of which was Mr. Joseph LaMarca, who made real the importance of understanding history, by underscoring the many wrongs perpetuated in the past that could easily have been avoided had the people learned from the mistakes of the past.

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  7. Continued from above

    I used to self identify as a liberal democrat, and a 'progressive' until I recognized how regressive, so called progressives actually were. That happened in 1999, when as an adult returning to college to finish a degree, became aware of the reality of leftist academics indoctrinating students in the classroom. It's true that not all professors do this, but enough so that it's a real problem. I've seen professors who exploit their positions to punish students' grades for disagreeing, I've seen one professor, vilify and force out of a class, a student, a young black woman, from a conservative, religious background, because she disagreed with the professor's attempt to lie, and exploit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to promote her socialist ideology. The young woman countered the professor's claim King was a socialist, because her family had a book of his writings, where he decried communism and socialism, and this was from his later period in life, as a civil rights leader. King wrote that under communism and socialism, a man is a slave, because without the right to self determination a man is a slave. She brought the book into class and the professor screamed at her, refused to even discuss the matter. The dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, who was the head of the dept, refused to address the problem, and in fact mocked the young woman. Thanfully a few years later, he was removed as dean. The professor was forced to leave the college. I stopped calling myself a democrat, when I realized I couldn't respect myself if I continued to do so. Given the democrats exposing themselves as still being the party of slavery and Jim Crow, by their contempt for the constitution and the US citizenry and constitution, starting back in 2006. Santorum is correct that left wing academics abuse their power. He's also correct that there is too much emphasis on college education.

    It's a lie that Obama ever mentioned 'apprenticeships or vocational education prior to Santorum's criticism. He never had. Members of congress fought to get Obama to even consider legislation that would have helped create apprenticeships for young people, like high school students, and democrats, since Clinton decimated vocational high school programs, reducing them as little more than props for the so called tech schools where a quickie associates degree which students are told are needed to get a job as an electrician, a mechanic or air conditioning repair person, secretary, etc... cost much more than a 4 year bachelor degree.

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  8. You are absolutely right about how to making our education system. The education system is can not making for defects in the family and community.

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