Hating on the Smarties

When presidential candidate Rick Santorum called President Obama a snob last month for encouraging Americans to go to college, he seemed, if only for a moment, to represent a dramatic challenge to the idea of higher education in America.

According to an op-ed in The Star-Ledger:

We’re getting beat on the education front, and Santorum wants us to prepare for the kinds of manufacturing jobs that have been dwindling for the last 60 years. No thanks, Senator. Work of all kinds deserves respect, but so does a dream to reach higher. Our leaders should be in the business of expanding our horizons, not limiting them.

But, in fact, according to an article by Emma Roller in the Chronicle of Higher Education, America has endured many decades of national politicians, from both parties, decrying education.

Herbert Hoover (B.S. Stanford) said that intellectuals exhibit an “unbroken record of total abstinence from constructive joy over our whole national history.”

Dwight Eisenhower, who graduated from U.S. Military Academy at West Point and briefly served as president of Columbia University, complained that an intellectual is “a man who takes more words than are necessary to tell more than he knows.”

Lyndon B. Johnson (B.S. Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College, attended Georgetown Law) said that American professors were “more concerned with the trivia and the superficial than they are with the things that have really built America.”

George Wallace (LL.B. University of Alabama) publicized the country’s most used, and puzzling, derogatory term for American academics when he characterized the group as “Pointy-head college professors who can’t even park a bicycle straight ….”

Richard Nixon (B.A. Whittier College, J.D. Duke University Law School) said that Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was “a pompous egghead.”

Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew (Johns Hopkins) said that the problem with America was that “a spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”

Recently Mitt Romney (B.A. Brigham Young University, MBA Harvard, also attended Stanford as an undergraduate) recently said jokingly that “there are college students at this conference who are reading Burke and Hayek. When I was your age, you could have told me they were infielders for the Detroit Tigers.” (This statement seems primarily to indicate an ignorance of the Detroit Tigers lineup surprising in someone from Bloomfield Hills, but at least he’s trying.)

But not all politicians are quite so negative about intellectuals, however. “Eggheads of the world, unite!” said Adlai Stevenson (A.B. Princeton, LL.B Northwestern Law) in a lecture he gave at Harvard in 1954, “you have nothing to lose but your yolks.”

Well that’s not the only thing they had to lose, however; Stevenson also lost the presidency to Eisenhower, twice.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer