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Santorum's right about something

BY ADAM B SULLIVAN | FEBRUARY 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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Rick Santorum deserves a lot of criticism. He's wrong on a lot of issues, often to a dangerous degree.

But the Republican's opposition to all-but-mandatory higher education isn't a place where he ought to be torn apart.

At an event this past weekend, Santorum took a shot at President Obama for wanting to increase U.S. college enrollment.

"Not all folks are gifted in the same way," Santorum told a crowd in Michigan. "Some people have incredible gifts with their hand … President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob."

For that, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania has received perhaps more criticism than he has for any other statement this election season.

Comedy Central all-star Jon Stewart took a shot at Santorum, for instance.

"Rick, I don't know if you know this, but snobs are exclusionary in nature," Stewart said on his "Daily Show." "Oh, do you know who Muffy wants to join the country club? All the Mexicans — what a snob."

And the liberal group Campus Progress is trying to rally opposition to Santorum's statements among young people. They published the "snob" bit under the heading "Tell your Friends What Santorum Said."

"Whether it is a four-year institution, a community college, or a vocational-training program, higher education is essential to job security and economic success," Campus Progress blogger Tobin Van Ostern wrote.

And Obama political adviser David Axelrod used Santorum's remarks to call the Republican pack "extreme."

"You see a race to the right, a race to pander to the most extreme and strident voices on the Republican side, and you've seen it in a series of debates recently over some social issues," Axelrod said in a conference call with student reporters this week.

But Santorum is right.

Maybe "snob" isn't the best word to call proponents of universal higher education, but Santorum is correct to oppose the notion that everyone needs to get more education after high school. Not only is that idea implausible, it's disrespectful to a large number of American workers who are integral to our economy.

There are more than 10,000 McDonald's stores around the country, for instance. The vast majority of the thousands of employees there don't need to go to college. And while an Obama supporter might likely brush that off as a low-paying, dissatisfying job, somebody has to flip burgers in this economy. And some of them are really good at it, even though they didn't take a two-year course on beef theory. The same goes for thousands of other restaurants in the United States.

And look at the manufacturing sector. While many of those positions are moving overseas and many of the ones that are staying do require formal postsecondary training, there are still assembly-line jobs that you can start with just a diploma in-hand. If all those people decided they didn't want to work assembly lines and instead enrolled in colleges, we'd be forced to move more jobs to other countries.

And as an Iowan, the best argument against universal higher education is obvious: Agriculture. It's true that an increasing number of agricultural workers do benefit from some formal coursework, but many of them don't need it. No matter how advanced agricultural technology gets, somebody has to shovel manure.

There's nothing wrong with flipping burgers, assembling widgets, or scooping poop. But when liberals insist higher education is essential for everyone, they belittle people without formal education and stigmatize those jobs.


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