A state senator in Tennessee on Monday night said it should have been obvious that he was joking when he suggested that higher education be abolished because it's a "liberal breeding ground."
Sen. Kerry Roberts, a Republican who represents a suburban district north and west of Nashville, was discussing a legislative session on an abortion measure on his weekly radio show last week when he recounted a "diatribe" that he said was delivered by a woman who "goes off" on white lawmakers.
The woman complained that "we've never done anything for black people," Roberts said on WDBL-AM of Springfield. He said the woman accused lawmakers of being "just hate-filled idiots."
His voice rising to a shout, Roberts said: "If there's one thing that we can do to save America today, it's to get rid of our institutions of higher education right now and cut the liberal breeding ground off! Good grief!"
Roberts didn't identify the woman or indicate how he knew her educational background, but he added: "This is a woman who is a product of higher education. She's learned all of this stuff that flies in the face of what we stand for as a country, and here we are as legislators paying for this garbage to be taught to our children."
The remarks went unnoticed until Monday, when the political website The Tennessee Holler reported them and an Associated Press version of the report was widely circulated on social media and amplified by political news and commentary sites.
Adopting the tone of a patient schoolteacher, Roberts said on Facebook on Monday night that "my listeners clearly understood the humor and hyperbole of it."
Roberts' own history and legislative record suggest that he was, indeed, joking.
According to his Senate biography, Roberts, 57, received a bachelor's degree in accounting from Lipscomb University, a Christian college near Nashville, in 1983.
During this legislative session, Roberts co-sponsored a measure to develop a statewide master plan to foster "strategic future development of public universities, community colleges and colleges of applied technology."
The measure, which passed the Senate in May, specified that state prison inmates should be "a focus population in order to increase the degree attainment of such individuals."
"Hyperbole: exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally," Roberts said in a tweet that he posted about the same time as he posted his Facebook message Monday night. "Especially common on talk radio shows."