One of Mom Mannion’s favorite expressions when I was growing up was “There’s no fool like an educated fool.”
I always took that as a warning to her college-bound children not to get too full of ourselves and I heeded it about as well as any teenager heeds any warning from their parents. But I also thought she was both teasing and warning Pop Mannion too. My mother didn’t go to college. My father has a Ph.D.
But Pop is no educated fool. He knows whom he married and why and what’s good for him. I’ve never known him to be full of himself around my mother, around us, around his students, around anybody, including the many educated fools, he had to deal with when he was in politics.
Here’s an important thing about Pop Mannion the politician. Besides knowing enough to listen to my mother, he was a builder and a fixer and a problem-solver. But he was not a reformer.
Reformers of both parties set out to explain to voters just what medicine they’re going to have to take and why they should take it and be grateful for it even if they don’t like it and don’t think they need it.
Reformers, for the most part, are the type of people Mom Mannion had in mind when she warned us about becoming educated fools.
This one seems to have blown over in a hurry. No surprise, since it was Rick Santorum talking and at the moment few people care what Rick Santorum’s thinking about anything and here’s hoping even fewer care as time goes by. But over the weekend at the Values Voter Summit he said:
"We will never have the elite, smart people on our side…”
Reads like self-parody, doesn’t it? But know what? If your first and only response is to laugh, you’re probably one of Mom Mannion’s educated fools.
Read and watch the whole thing.
Santorum didn’t say smart. He said “smart.” It was an insult. He wasn’t talking about people who are smart. He was talking about people who think they’re so much smarter than everybody else.
And, he didn’t have to add out loud because his audience was ahead of him on it, We know how “smart” they are.
Liberals and liberal-minded conservatives (Yes, there are such people. As all us educated fools know, liberal has several meanings.) have often decried the anti-intellectualism of the Right. And that is something to be decried. But it shouldn’t be confused with the anti-intellectuals-ism that’s a longstanding American tradition born of frustration at having to deal with “reformers” waving their degrees in our faces as they barge into our lives to tell us they know what’s good for us and we need to listen up as they lay out their plans for improving our lives, whether we think they need improving or not.
An irony of this Presidential election is that that’s supposed to be the knock on President Obama, that he’s a smartypants liberal who thinks he’s so smart he can tell the rest of us how to manage our lives, but it’s Mitt who’s coming across to voters that way. But then Mitt is a product of the school of scientific management. An educated fool deluxe with two Hah-vud degrees to prove it.
Paul Ryan’s another dispenser of strong medicine he has no intention of prescribing for himself.
But the truth is liberals do seem to have the market cornered on educated foolery.
Try this. James Warren writing at the Atlantic about the Chicago teachers strike and trying to sound sympathetic while measuring out a big dose of castor oil for parents who want to keep their local elementary school open, partly because they know and like the teachers there:
It's a dynamic at play whenever the under-performing Chicago system, which is beset by huge deficits, tries to close or consolidates schools. The school board usually gets its way but not before a very public uproar. Even parents at what are clearly low quality, poorly performing schools rise to protest. There's a bond that blinds them to larger realities but ties them to that neighborhood building without any air conditioning.
My italics up there.
Blind to larger realities here means, “Sentimentally attached to their neighborhood schools in a way they wouldn’t be if they knew what’s good for them, which they should because we reformers are here to tell them what’s good for them.”
Imagine, parents being loyal to a neighborhood school and thinking, in their blindness to larger realities:
Couldn’t we just put in air conditioning here instead of bussing my kids across town to some huge but fancy reformer-approved education factory where I won’t be able to reach them if they get sick or where it will be a big problem for me to visit if I need to meet with their teachers and hard to get to their games and their concerts and their plays and where if I do manage to get there I will be lost in a sea of strangers instead of at home among my friends and neighbors?
Warren’s condescension would be bad enough on its own, but it comes in the middle of his writing sympathetically about one of those parents who happens to have died recently from pancreatic cancer.
I’d like Warren to go to the funeral and deliver the eulogy:
“While she was active, involved, and an asset to her community, let us not forget, she was nevertheless blind to larger realities…”
You can hear Mom Mannion saying it, can’t you?