Earlier today at the Values Voters Summit, Buzzfeed reported the following about Rick Santorum:
“We will never have the media on our side, ever, in this country,” Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, told the audience at the Omni Shoreham hotel. “We will never have the elite, smart people on our side.”
He’s come in for some ridicule on this, but I think most people who are mocking Santorum just don’t understand who Santorum was talking to or what he was actually saying. They don’t speak fundamentalist or social conservative.
I do—or at least I used to—so I’m going to translate.
Fundamentalists, especially the sort who go to the Values Voters Summit, use smart as an epithet. They do this because they don’t value classical education. In fact, they see it as a threat to their way of life. These are the people who have been at the forefront of the home school movement, who have pushed for first creationism and then intelligent design in science curricula, who have started and supported universities like Liberty and Patrick Henry and Regent as a way to push back against the secular world. When Rick Santorum says “we will never have the elite, smart people on our side,” he’s using smart as a synonym for liberal, for secular, for people who will accept objective science over the Bible.
Notice how he tied “elite” to “smart”? That’s a sign Santorum is using it as a slur. Santorum likes to play the role of the common man, and wants to speak to his audience as if that’s what they are: salt of the earth, God’s children. You know who’s elite? Liberals. You know who’s “smart”? Liberals.
But they’re not smart in God’s ways. They’re not smart in the only ways that matter. Santorum doesn’t have to say this out loud because this attitude is a basic tenet of social conservatism and Christian fundamentalism. His audience is elite and smart in the ways that matter—they’re just not “the elite, smart people.” And they wear that distinction like a medal. Santorum didn’t make a gaffe here—he was talking to his people, and they knew exactly what he was saying.