Santorum made two points that plainly resonated with his audience. One was that college isn't for everyone: "Not all folks are gifted the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands. Some people ... want to work out there making things." In a country where more than two-thirds of adults don't possess a college degree, a president who suggests that there's something inferior in having just a high school education,as Obama arguably has done, opens himself up to a charge of elitism.
Much more explicitly ideological was Santorum's second point -- that American academia skews heavily to the left, and that Obama sees colleges as indoctrination mills for generating more Democrats.
"There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to tests that aren't taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them," Santorum said to cheers. "Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image."
Too shrill by half for my taste -- red meat for Tea Party Republicans and a guaranteed hackle-raiser for liberal Democrats. William F. Buckley Jr. made the point far more deftly nearly 50 years ago: "I should sooner live in a society governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the 2,000 faculty members of Harvard University." Santorum's gibe, sad to say, had none of the wit or elegance of Buckley's formulation.William F. Buckley: "I should "sooner live in a society governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the 2,000 faculty members of Harvard University."
But a gaffe? Hardly. The left-wing tilt of American universities is by now a self-evident truth. Surveys have long confirmed that liberals heavily outnumber conservatives on college faculties. Does anyone doubt that the Obama campaign will collect vastly more in campaign contributions from people working in higher education than will the GOP nominee, regardless of who that nominee turns out to be?
Politically and culturally, America's colleges don't look like America. They resemble, in George F. Will's phrase, intellectual versions of one-party nations. On campus, as in such nations, dissidents may thrive -- and it is the dissidents who are most apt to tell the truth about the stifling orthodoxies that reign around them.
To the chattering class and establishment elites, Santorum's "snob" remark may come across as weird, fanatic, and disconnected from reality. But when you look at the video of his appearance in Troy, it's clear that plenty of ordinary voters understand just what he means, however inelegantly expressed. And not only understand, but cheer.