Santorum's New Hampshire Fumble
A few years after grad school, I interviewed for a job in the philosophy department of a major university. They flew me out in the middle of February from the gloomy and bitter cold of New England to a sunny and warm campus of palm trees swaying in the breeze. I gave a talk on Plato; though I said controversial things, nobody seemed to mind. We went to dinner afterward, and I left feeling confident I'd get the job.
Imagine my surprise when the department chairman called to tell me, sorry, Arnold, we decided to hire the affirmative action candidate. Yes, that's how he put it! An admission like that today might have landed the university in a lawsuit -- maybe then, too. I just hung up in disgust.
This brings me to the debate at St. Anselm College last Sunday, where Rick Santorum jumped on Mitt Romney over his use of the term "middle class":
There are no classes in America. We are a country that don't [sic] allow for titles. We don't put people in classes. There may be middle-income people, but the idea that somehow or another we're going to buy into the class warfare arguments of Barack Obama is something that should not be part of the Republican lexicon. That's their job: divide, separate, put one group against another. That's not the language that I'll use as president -- I'll use the language of bringing people together.
I should point out first that Santorum's jab exemplifies two elementary logical fallacies and a contradiction. A familiar debater's trick is criticizing an opponent's view on grounds that it can be construed as resembling a view the opponent would also find problematic -- which is a version of the "you too" fallacy. That's strike 1. It seemed clear that Romney did not mean to use the term "middle class" the way Obama was said to -- i.e., as shorthand for some sort of class warfare -- which is the equivocation fallacy. That's strike 2. Finally, there's no ontological difference between categorizing people as middle-class and as middle-income. Both terms pick out classes (sets) in the sense of specifying attributes in virtue of which all and only people with the same attribute belong in the same class. The difference is in the attribute that defines the class, not whether both are classes -- hence the contradiction of accepting one class and rejecting the other. That's strike 3.
Santorum ended up in fifth place (out of six) in New Hampshire not because his logic is bad (not a political sin), though, but rather because religious conservatives, the core of his base, are far less numerous in New Hampshire than in Iowa. However, if he had asserted leadership on another issue of vital importance to conservatives, he might not have missed a golden opportunity to solidify his position after Iowa as Romney's chief rival. (For other fumbles, see Peter Heck's analysis.)
The senator should have skipped his (fallacious) diatribe against Romney about "middle class" and instead amplified in moral terms a view he seems to hold about America being a classless society -- pinning the tail on a different donkey, as it were.
The moral point Santorum should have made is that in America we ought to be careful about, and in some cases refrain entirely from, rewarding people just because they're members of certain classes, all other things being equal. He came close to making it, but no cigar.
Specifically, Santorum might have remained the favorite of the conservative mainstream that rewarded him with an oh-so-close second in Iowa had he said flat-out last Sunday that there is something morally objectionable about singling people out by race or gender and then granting them preferential treatment just because they belong to those classes when it comes to, for example, employment opportunities and school admissions, while denying the same privileges to people outside those classes -- e.g., white males. Granting such preferences may be legal -- constitutionality is unclear -- but it doesn't follow that the moral issue is settled. Law doesn't dictate morality; it's the other way around.
Yes, I'm talking about "affirmative action." Santorum opened a huge door with the comment that "we don't put people in classes," which is literally false because that's precisely what affirmative action does. He should have said that "we ought not to put people in classes," and then gone on to draw the moral of the lesson, so to speak, letting conservatives know that he's true-blue on this issue as well. He didn't, and his campaign is now in serious trouble.
There is a big difference, he could have added, between the current occupant of the Oval Office and the GOP field seeking to replace him that is even more obvious than the ones already familiar: the odds are low that Obama would have gotten as far as he did without affirmative action, and zero that he would have gotten as far as he did as quickly. By comparison, the GOP contenders earned their way to where they are today -- even Romney and Huntsman, who are from wealthy families. Obama's qualifications to be president are a mystery to this day, as many have pointed out. He has "community organizer" in common with Karl Marx, whose ideas he has found worthy of implementation, judging by the massive meddling of his government in private industry. During the campaign, Obama got a pass from the mainstream media on unsavory associations (Ayers, Dohrn, Reverend Wright) and questionable dealings on his way up the Chicago political ladder. Affirmative action trumps everything.
It would have taken a lot of courage for Santorum to pull the pin of the affirmative action grenade on national television. Sawyer and Stephanopoulos would have had a fit -- what fun -- while the victimologist mafia and their commentariat cronies would have been all over him afterward with nasty labels, protests, and accusations. How the other candidates would have reacted is a good question. Gingrich is famous for being outspoken, so maybe he would have jumped in to agree and amplify. Romney probably would have finessed it -- handing Santorum another opportunity. We'll never know.
Back to my encounter with the affirmative action buzz saw, an experience I'm sure was not unique. There are five executive orders on this matter signed into law over the years by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Carter: 10925 (1961), 11246 (1965), 11375 (1967), 11625 (1971), and 12138 (1979). Readers in search of philosophical arguments against affirmative action can find them in Why Race Matters (1997) by a former philosophy professor of mine, Michael Levin. The strongest refutation of affirmative action, however, is that it led to the most corrupt, incompetent, duplicitous, and power-mad administration in recent memory, which has buried us under a gigantic pile of debt that has slowed down our economy, with no end in sight. Unless...
Removing affirmative action from the law books would be a good way to start "bringing people together." Romney can shore up his conservative credentials by announcing that he will make it a priority as president to sign an executive order declaring the above five null and void. His competitors can challenge him from the right by announcing it sooner, on an issue just as important to conservatives as repealing Obamacare and Roe v. Wade.