Forgive me, but I need to get something off my chest:
I agree with SABR Matt below when he remarks that Santorum gets caught flat-footed distressingly often. But here’s what bothers me: Santorum is often right and nobody recognizes it. (SABR Matt excepted, of course.) Yes, yes, yes, we need to be aware of electoral realities. Blah, blah, blah. I’ve heard that a thousand times, and it’s starting to make me bitter and resentful. Why? Because the way I see it, that argument is a form of giving up. It’s basically conceding that we can never win the war against the mainstream media and their mendacious reporting. It’s putting the truth aside for the sake of winning. It’s saying that we shouldn’t even try to convince the middle – that, instead, we should just let certain folks continue to believe things that don’t hold up to careful scrutiny.
Consider, for example, the belief that everyone should go to college. As SABR Matt mentions in his post, the statistics would seem to suggest that a college education leads to higher earnings and greater happiness. The problem here is that such studies are always correlative. They show a positive relationship between a college degree and certain measures of success, but what about all the potential confounding variables? Are the people who go to college and graduate sociologically similar to those who don’t? Are they psychologically similar? That proposition seems very unlikely to me. Isn’t it therefore probable that college graduates are successful for reasons other than their educational attainment? That perhaps they earned their degrees due to their intellectual capacity, ambition, work ethic, persistence, etc.? That absent a college education, they still would’ve found some way to succeed? A study of our history seems to support the idea. Back when going to college was not a common experience for people below a certain income bracket, many people still managed to rise out of penury to establish wildly successful businesses — or write intelligent, trenchant books. The self-made man is an American icon for a reason.
Yes, I know — it’s weird for a professional college admissions counselor and SAT tutor to be questioning the college mystique. But bear with me here. I’m not quite finished. You see, there’s another way that the pro-college propaganda lies to our kids: It doesn’t draw any distinctions between the various degree programs on offer. Instead, we get a variation of the Underpants Gnome Argument:
1. Go to college.
2. Get a degree.
But, as everyone knows in his heart of hearts, not all degrees are created equal. If you’ve majored in Petroleum Engineering, you may be able to get a six-figure job in North Dakota right out of the starting gate. But if you’ve majored in Womyn’s Studies? Congratulations! You’ve just racked up thousands of dollars of debt for a degree that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Teens need to know that what they study in college does matter — yet none of the pro-college cheerleaders out there are encouraging said teens to make smart choices.
And by the way, the fact that there is such a thing as a major in Womyn’s Studies indicates that the full-scale push to universalize college has lead to an overall dumbing-down of the curriculum. And here’s another bit of evidence: Colleges have had to institute remedial programs in English and mathematics to accommodate students who are woefully under-prepared for university-level work. Freshman composition instructors in particular complain bitterly about their students’ inability to clearly communicate their ideas on paper, and they definitely have a reason to do so. Yes – all of this should move us to indict our K-12 education system. But I also believe it should prompt us to question whether college should be promoted so uncritically.
The upshot? I believe many of the facts are on Santorum’s side when it comes to college. And I think we can convince our moderate friends to at least think twice about condemning Santorum for his “snob” remark if we actually do the work and present the argument I outlined above. Similarly, there are arguments that can be advanced against the supposedly “mainstream” sexual revolution — arguments that we can back up with relatively solid social science research. Yet the pro-Romney bloggers keep urging us to put those things aside. “Stick to the economy,” they counsel. “We have to capture the middle.” “Social issues are a distraction.” To that, I say this: Social issues are inextricably connected to fiscal issues. Big government is reigning supreme precisely because our social capital is disappearing. People are looking to Daddy Obama to save them because their families and communities are no longer up to the task. If you want government to be smaller – if you want to reduce the national debt – you have to restore the family. That’s all there is to it. True — there is a right way and a wrong way to bring up our social and moral decline. True — Santorum might not be social-conservatism’s best standard-bearer. But if we can’t discuss the social issues now, when should we discuss them? Because the way I see it, you Romney fans are advocating that we kick the can down the road in perpetuity instead of dealing with what truly ails us as a country.