San­to­rum loses the con­ser­va­tive trail

Can­di­date wan­ders out of bounds over con­tra­cep­tion and col­lege

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Suzanne Fields

Rick San­to­rum is mak­ing so­cial con­ser­va­tives look bad. While Pres­i­dent Obama sets off class war­fare and ex­ploits nat­u­ral in­come in­equal­ity, Mr. San­to­rum ap­peals to the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor of so­cial val­ues in reck­less pur­suit of a win­ning po­lit­i­cal for­mula. He deep­ens re­li­gious and sec­u­lar dif­fer­ences, mocks the sac­ri­fices of mil­lions of par­ents to send their chil­dren to col­lege, and sounds me­dieval in try­ing to up­set set­tled no­tions about birth con­trol by mar­ried cou­ples. Bill Clin­ton’s cam­paign was fa­mously re­minded, “It’s about the econ­omy, stupid,” and now ol’ stupid, who ap­pears to be work­ing for the San­to­rum cam­paign, has to be told that this elec­tion is not about Kennedy, col­lege and con­tra­cep­tion.

In his reach to re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives be­sieged by sec­u­lar­ists mock­ing faith in the public square, he op­poses the sepa­ra­tion of church of state, which most Amer­i­cans re­gard as bedrock and bul­wark of the repub­lic. John F. Kennedy’s elo­quent 1960 speech to Protes­tant min­is­ters in Hous­ton, which put to rest the big­otry that once barred a Catholic from the high­est of­fice of the land, made it pos­si­ble for Rick San­to­rum, a Catholic, to seek that of­fice.

“I be­lieve in an Amer­ica where the sepa­ra­tion of church and state is ab­so­lute,” JFK de­clared, and Amer­i­cans took him at his word. JFK’S elo­quence only stim­u­lates Mr. San­to­rum’s gag re­flex. He se­ri­ously mis­reads the con­ser­va­tive voter.

To the par­ents who scrimp, sac­ri­fice and save to ed­u­cate their chil­dren and pre­pare them for jobs af­ter high school, he warns that a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion is only for “snobs.” This di­min­ishes the ac­com­plish­ments of gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­cans who used their boot­straps to get them­selves to a cam­pus. (This in­cludes Mr. San­to­rum, who holds de­grees from three uni­ver­si­ties.)

He con­fuses sex­ual li­cense with thought­ful in­ti­macy, pre­vent­ing dis­ease and plan­ning fam­i­lies. He says a Pres­i­dent San­to­rum would warn cou­ples about “the dan­gers of con­tra­cep­tion” and the sex­ual per­mis­sive­ness con­tra­cep­tion en­cour­ages. “Many of Chris­tian faith have said, ‘Con­tra­cep­tion is OK,’ “he told the Chris­tian blog Caf­feinated Thoughts. “It’s not OK. It’s a li­cense to do things in the sex­ual realm that is counter to how things are sup­posed to be . . . . If it’s not for pur­poses of pro­cre­ation, then you di­min­ish this very spe­cial bond be­tween men and women.” Fewer than 1 in 10 Amer­i­cans agree with that, ac­cord­ing to polling by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

This is what hap­pens when a can­di­date stoops to car­i­ca­ture and dis­tor­tion of con­ser­va­tive phi­los­o­phy and be­lief. It’s a dan­ger­ous ploy. His ser­mon­ettes about sex and sepa­ra­tion of church and state are not likely to change any­body’s mind, but his de­ri­sion of a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion hurts the most vul­ner­a­ble among us. Em­ploy­ment rates are sig­nif­i­cantly higher for those who have a col­lege de­gree than for those who don’t. Al­most two-thirds of the un­em­ployed in the last months of 2011 had no ed­u­ca­tion past high school.

But a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion is also about more than jobs. It’s about want­ing to know more about more things and about ex­pand­ing un­der­stand­ing of the great ideas handed down to us. Many of our best col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties have in­deed be­come po­lit­i­cally cor­rect, presided over by aca­demic snobs with nar­row minds, and that’s what Mr. San­to­rum rightly could ad­dress. But ad­vanced learn­ing at its best goes be­yond learn­ing “mar­ketable skills.” More than ever, we need to de­velop rigor for think­ing an­a­lyt­i­cally, crit­i­cally and cre­atively. That’s some­thing col­leges have the abil­ity to teach.

What sets apart higher ed­u­ca­tion in Amer­ica has been its in­creas­ing in­clu­sive­ness, ex­pand­ing op­por­tu­nity to women, mi­nori­ties and vet­er­ans from all eco­nomic classes. “Need-based” and “mer­it­based” loans to get more young men and women through col­lege, for ex­am­ple, are cru­cial for democ­racy to re­main healthy. The Amer­i­can sys­tem of higher ed­u­ca­tion, in­clud­ing hun­dreds of col­leges founded by churches, of­fers op­por­tu­ni­ties for both learn­ing and con­tem­pla­tion. Polls show that large ma­jori­ties of Amer­i­cans re­gard a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion as cru­cial to the pur­suit of the Amer­i­can dream.

Glob­al­iza­tion, the rapid rev­o­lu­tion in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and the break­down of a con­sen­sus of what’s im­por­tant to know have ush­ered in an age of rad­i­cal change. But there’s noth­ing snob­bish about want­ing a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion. Rick San­to­rum saw it that way him­self on his way to Penn State and then to the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh and fi­nally to Dickinson Col­lege of Law. Most vot­ers, as we saw on Tues­day night, want the same op­por­tu­ni­ties for them­selves and their chil­dren.

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