The President as Snob

The Salt Lake Tribune (March 3, 2012)

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently labeled President Obama a snob for encouraging all Americans to attend college. For those of us old enough to remember, such a charge carries echoes of four decades past when President Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, attempted to merge Democrats and academics into a single entity in the public consciousness, calling them “effete, intellectual snobs.”

Shortly thereafter, Agnew was forced from office on charges of extortion, bribery and tax fraud. Clearly, Santorum, a strong opponent of funded public education despite possessing three degrees from institutions of higher learning, was trying to access a misplaced but persistent resentment that links higher education not just with wealth and class, but with privilege and remoteness from the troubles of common folk.

The evidence for the wrongheadedness of Santorum’s statement is well-documented. From the GI Bill to Pell grants, higher education has provided the stepping stone to a better life for ordinary Americans. Once a bastion for the rich, scholarships and attention to access and diversity have helped colleges and universities level class distinctions, basing admissions on the promise of and ambition for self-improvement and societal contribution.

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