Deciphering Right-Wing Code: What Conservatives Are Really Saying When They Seem to Spew Nonsense
Continued from previous page
The Crusade Begins
When wingnuts say stuff like this, it is never, ever offhand. This narrative is making the rounds on the right because somebody is laying the groundwork for an imminent, planned political action. Santorum's screed is the first stage of this campaign. It's a story that justifies the coming action, and puts the issue on the public table for discussion. It explains to right-wing followers that public universities, already well-understood as havens for liberal (!) public employees (!!) who exist only to corrupt the youth (!!!), are now also so blatantly unpatriotic (!!!!) that they no longer deserve taxpayer support.
Further inquiry bore this suspicion out. It turns out that Santorum's weird claims about UC's history departments were a garbled rendering of an op-ed that appeared last week in the Wall Street Journal. (The article is behind a paywall; but the report it referenced, from the conservative Hoover Institution, is not.) The WSJ piece deplored UC's history programs thusly:
This decline in the quality of education coincides with a profound transformation of the college curriculum. None of the nine general campuses in the UC system requires students to study the history and institutions of the United States. None requires students to study Western civilization, and on seven of the nine UC campuses, including Berkeley, a survey course in Western civilization is not even offered. In several English departments one can graduate without taking a course in Shakespeare. In many political science departments majors need not take a course in American politics.
The report goes on to point out that university faculties skew decidedly liberal (perhaps because the facts have a well-known liberal bias), and that nothing but partisan education happens behind those ivy walls.
You can kind of squint sideways and see how Santorum got from here to there.
For the record: it is true that a single "survey course on Western Civilization" isn't offered at most UC campuses. That's because Western Civilization courses are more typically offered in a multi-part series, because the professors don't think it's possible to effectively teach 3,000 years of history in a mere 10 weeks. So all of UC's undergrad campuses offer plenty of courses in both US and Western history, and a lot of students take them to fulfill their general education requirements. However, it's also true that many students choose to broaden their horizons by taking something they didn't already cover in both elementary and high school -- say, Asian or African history -- instead.
Given how fast and loose the WSJ played with this point, it's probably not wise to credit it with much accuracy on the other claims, either.
But the content of this Hoover report isn't as important as the fact of its provenance, its existence, and its publication on the pages of the WSJ. Right-wing crusades almost always start with think-tank reports; and are issuized on the pages of conservative magazines and newspapers. From there, the ideas are picked up and disseminated by Fox, politicians, conservative ministers, and right-wing bloggers. If all goes well, within weeks, legislators will be paying attention, and lobbyists will be presenting them with ready-written legislation to propose to deal with this manufactured "problem."
This is the path we're on now. Santorum was setting the stage. He warned us, very clearly: Following the War on Public Employees and the War on Women, this will be the summer of the War on Public Universities. Whether the proposals will be to revoke their charters, close campuses, or sell off their facilities to for-profit colleges, you can bet that ALEC already has the bills in the can, and will be introducing them in state legislatures presently.