THE BLOG
05/13/2008 12:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In Defense of Being Educated

Much attention was made of Hillary Clinton's interview last week with USA Today, when she noted that support for Barack Obama "among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."

Many found her comments about race divisive and problematic. Overlooked was what she said at the end -- that voters "who had not completed college were supporting me."

Let's look at this a moment.

It's fair to say that people who haven't completed college have less education than those who have completed college. And saying that that someone has less education is the same as saying they're less smart. And calling someone less smart is saying that they're -- well, dumber.

And Hillary Clinton thinks this is a badge of honor?? It's one thing, after all, to call your supporters dumber than your opponent's. It's another to proudly trumpet the fact.

Most politicians tend to present why they are the best, what they can offer to the public to make their constituency a better place. Even Ronald Reagan, who didn't set very high standards of excellence, wanted Americans to seek a "shining city upon a hill." Barack Obama's hope is "Yes, we can," to inspire Americans to reach for their best. Hillary Clinton is proudly saluting that her appeal is to the dumber voters.

Way to pander.

To be very clear, before people leap (which they will) -- calling someone "dumber" is not the same as calling them "dumb." Put two Nobel Prize-winning physicists in a room, and one will be dumber than the other. But they're both really smart people.

And also to be clear, there are college-educated people who snake through four years and leave the ivy-covered walls dumb as a rock. And people who never went past high school who you'd be happy to have them lead you anywhere.

But while we're being clear, let's also be honest.

When picking a surgeon to operate on you -- would you prefer one with a college education, or one of those unlicensed doctors? Why? If you need someone to defend you in court, are you more likely going to want to have an attorney who went to law school, and actually graduated? Yes? Why?

We tend to require college education for the most valued aspects of life. Teachers, for instance. Air traffic controllers. Registered nurses. FBI agents. Nuclear physicists. CPAs. Commercial airline pilot. Veterinarians. On and on...

George Bush says he listens to the generals on the ground. Do you? Good. But you do understand that all those generals went to college. West Point tends to make that a requirement.

By the way, though we disparage them, it's a safe bet (since we elect them) that we want our politicians to have gone to college.

Right now, there are those ready to boil up a faux-cry of "Elitist!" And a faux-cry it is, particularly because it tends to come from the party of actual elitism. But mainly, education has nothing to do with elitism. It has everything to do with human beings wanting the best. Wanting the best for themselves when needing medical care, legal defense, flying on an airplane, safe bridges, military leadership, on and on. Wanting the best, period.

People have different goals, temperaments, life situations, needs. So, some go to college, and others don't. But most people in life want more for their children than themselves, to reach loftier heights. Isn't having a good education generally the goal? Honestly? Don't we all wish for the best for our children? For us?

Honestly?

When denigrating education, understand that it has an effect. Dismissing science, math, history does not exist in a vacuum. Medical research will grow overseas. Other countries will invent computer technology once invented in America. Electronics development will take place internationally, as will the jobs. Creative automobile leadership will occur elsewhere.

Education matters. It has nothing to do with elitism. Being elitist doesn't mean striving for the best, trying to be as talented, smart and accomplished, as qualified as you can be and want others to be. That's the point of life.

Being elitist is dismissing other people's worth as people because they haven't reached your self-imposed standards. That's completely different from wanting everyone to reach that same high standard, and striving to bring that about.

Striving to reach a high standard. Hoping to become the best we can be. Working for our children to do even better than us. It's what we want.

Unless, apparently, you're Hillary Clinton. Then you proclaim that you should be president of the United States specifically because voters who support you are not as educated as your opponent's.

Senator Clinton's claim reminded me of an email I received a few days before. One of her supporters was furious at a prayer I'd written for Ms. Clinton, and said it was the last straw, that he wasn't going to vote for Barack Obama should he become the Democratic nominee. I thanked the fellow for writing, and mentioned that I said Hillary Clinton had much good in her, and might one day be president, suggesting he seemed to have missed that part.

What I didn't write was that anyone who wouldn't vote for a candidate because of what someone other than the candidate believed -- well, that person probably shouldn't vote. But then, I guess when you're going for the "My voters are dumber than yours" base, it's not surprising when occasionally that's what you get.