In the 1920s, H.L. Mencken, the nasty patron saint of modern journalism, coined the term "booboisie" to refer to a class of Americans he considered uneducated, uncultured and subservient to the religious and business status quo.
Mencken relished mocking those politicians who depended upon a stupid electorate for their ascendency to power. Almost every institution in American life harbored the seeds of revolt against modernity during the early decades of the 20th century.
Religious institutions and authoritarian personalities were especially horrified by the implications of Darwinism, the steady unraveling of middle-class morality, the growth of agnosticism and the impact of the newly enfranchised women's vote on democracy.
Were Mencken alive today, he would dust off the term booboisie, now fallen into decades of disuse. He would gleefully lasso and hogtie Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum before dragging him through the pages of America's newspapers as the very embodiment of the anti-intellectualism he inveighed against daily.
What the former Pennsylvania senator said during a campaign stop in Troy, Mich., last week would have made the bard of Baltimore's head explode. "President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob," Mr. Santorum sneered while the booboisie hooted.
"There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor that [wants] to indoctrinate them," he added.
Mr. Santorum is always careful to pillory teachers with as much contempt as he can project with his voice, usually squeaking with indignation. He is nothing if not the master of the false choice, a talent he has perfected as the leading practitioner of a sly brand of American Manichaeanism.
Mr. Santorum also has settled upon the fuzzy politics of "anti-elitism" as the core of his critique of Mr. Obama. Mr. Santorum wants everyone to know that if Mr. Obama is re-elected, the masses of American children might find themselves conscripted into the Ivy League, where godless professors will murder their faith on the altar of socialism and effete liberalism.
"That's why Obama wants you to go to college," he said. "He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his."
When the moderator of ABC's "This Week" asked him to explain what he meant by calling Mr. Obama a "snob," Mr. Santorum complained about the "politically correct values" he believes alienate children from foundational American values.
Conveniently forgotten is the fact that during his 2006 Senate race, Mr. Santorum campaigned to make higher education more accessible to all Pennsylvanians by supporting loans, grants and tax incentives. He was particularly aggressive about getting money to the state's historically black colleges and universities. He's changed his tune since then. Now a liberal arts education has become a culture war issue.
"Sixty-two percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it," Mr. Santorum said, quoting a figure that isn't confirmed by any study.
Meanwhile, a 2007 study in the journal Social Forces found that 76 percent of those who never enrolled in college experienced an even steeper drop in religious observance and attendance. Going to college is just as likely to reinforce one's faith as diminish it.
Mr. Santorum attended both a state university and a law school, so there's no accounting for his zealotry. His oldest daughter is enrolled at the Catholic University of Dallas but is sitting the year out to help with her father's campaign. His 19-year-old son is working full time on the campaign, too, and isn't currently enrolled in college. Their siblings are being home-schooled in suburban Virginia -- something the good folks in Penn Hills will tell you they once subsidized with their tax dollars.
Mr. Santorum's apologists say he's merely stating the obvious -- that college isn't for everyone. Who doesn't know that? But with America experiencing a crisis in higher education, now isn't the time to surrender to the tyranny of the booboisie.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org ; 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG. Correction: H.L. Mencken's term " booboisie " was misspelled as "booboise."