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Obama rebukes Santorum on education ‘snob’ charge, points to policy on community colleges, worker training

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News
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President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White …

The White House on Monday rolled out a "no-drama" response to Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum's charge that Barack Obama is a "snob" intent on pushing "everybody in America" to go to college.

By the superheated standards of recent election-year Republican attacks on the president — they've called him a socialist waging war on organized religion and offering nothing but weak-kneed appeasement to all of America's enemies (apparently Osama bin Laden can rest in appease) — Santorum's jibe was pretty mild, so maybe that's why Obama's response was more gentle rebuke than releasing the dogs-with-bees-in-their-mouths-and-when-they-bark-they-shoot-bees-at-you.

The criticism drew a response from Obama himself, who offered a thinly veiled rejoinder during a speech to the National Governors Association.

"The jobs of the future are increasingly going to those with more than a high school degree," he said. "And I have to make a point here:  When I speak about higher education we're not just talking about a four-year degree.  We're talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment. And they can't go in there unless they've got some basic training beyond what they received in high school."

"We all want Americans getting those jobs of the future.  So we're going to have to make sure that they're getting the education that they need," said the president.

Santorum's campaign press secretary, Alice Stewart, told MSNBC that Obama had made a "change in tone" and "clarified" his stance in response to the Republicans' attacks.

But Obama's remarks tracked with his first-ever speech to a joint session of Congress in February 2009, when he declared: "I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training."

"This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship.  But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.  And dropping out of high school is no longer an option."

Santorum had charged, in remarks shown on NBC's "Meet The Press" on Sunday,  that "President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob!"

"There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor, trying to indoctrinate them. Oh I understand why he wants to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image," Santorum said.

Asked about Santorum's comments, White House spokesman Jay Carney also took a low-key approach, telling reporters: "I don't think any parent in America who has a child would think it snobbery to hope for that child the best possible education in the future, and that includes college. "

"As you know, the president has always made clear that he believes higher education is important for everyone, and that includes if not a four-year degree -- bachelor's of arts degree -- then a two-year degree from a community college or vocational training through a community college," Carney said.

"So it is, to use a phrase that we've applied elsewhere, an all-of-the-above approach when it comes to higher education," he said.

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