Scott Walker’s Lack of a College Degree Matters

Posted: February 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: VOC Essays | 39 Comments »
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The notion that America should accept a president in the 21st century who does not possess a baccalaureate degree is beyond absurdity. The fact that some conservatives are trying to make criticisms of Walker’s lack of a college degree about snobbery and elitism, rather than him not meeting a perfunctory expectation of the Leader of the Free World, only goes to show the embarrassing way in which anti-intellectualism is treated as a sought-after virtue within mainstream conservatism.

There is an alarming number of people in America with graduate degrees who are incapable of finding jobs commensurate with their educational attainment and, in some cases, finding jobs at all. At a time when this is occurring, it would be monumentally absurd to elect someone who couldn’t be bothered to finish college to the highest office in the land. If the highest office in the land, and indeed the most important job in the world, can be whimsically occupied by someone who couldn’t be bothered to find the time to finish his undergraduate education, then what is the point of anyone slogging through college and earning a degree? Are those who suggest that college dropouts should be routinely considered for the office of President of the United States arguing that the presidency is less tasking or important than the plurality of jobs listed on Craigslist that specify only holders of a baccalaureate degree should apply?

It is important to note that Scott Walker couldn’t be bothered to finish college. His case is not one where he was so poor that he couldn’t afford to attend college. There is a fundamental and important difference between the two. The former speaks to a lack of dedication to scholarly learning, whereas the latter simply speaks to a lack of opportunity. Incontestably, there are many smart people who simply were not able to attend college because of the prohibitively expensive tuition. That is not Scott Walker’s story. As The Washington Post described, Walker was the kind of student who would walk into class late, earn poor grades, and focus all of his attention on being elected to various positions on campus. Walker is the quintessential career politician—except most career politicians understand the importance of having a college degree.

Because the position of President of the United States is an elected job, people often forget that it is the most important job in the world, and not a popularity contest like being elected high school prom king. Only those who treat the presidency as an unserious, random popularity contest would object to the notion that an elected president should have completed college. Of course, educational attainment should not be the only requirement, but the notion that it does not matter is preposterous. Moreover, those who argue that it demonstrates elitism to express a desire to restrict the presidency to people who finished college are incoherent. Would it demonstrate elitism to bar people who did not finish high school from being president? The idea that having reasonable academic standards demonstrates elitism is utterly nonsensical.

It is not elitism to suggest that the President of the United States should have the basic international educational requirement for an entry professional position today: a baccalaureate degree. While it is true that not every person with a baccalaureate degree ought to be president, it is not outrageous to suggest that the Leader of the Free World ought to have one. People who defend Walker by making the claim that degrees are worthless and easy to get never seem to address or understand the contradiction in their argument. If degrees are so easy to get, why did Walker drop out from university in the process of getting one? It makes no logical sense to simultaneously argue that degrees are easy to get and defend Walker’s lack of a degree.

Elitism and snobbery would be condescending to someone who chose to become a plumber or an electrician for their choice in career. Elitism and snobbery would be suggesting that such a plumber or electrician is inferior to someone who decides to become a lawyer or a doctor. Elitism is not expecting that people should meet the basic academic expectations of professions that they choose. The fact of the matter is that society doesn’t need an endless supply of lawyers. Society also needs electricians and plumbers. There is a reason why every sitting member of the United States Senate has a baccalaureate degree. It is simply an expectation for the average politician in the 21st century. Nobody is forced to run for president, in the same way nobody is forced to become a plumber. It is not snobbery to suggest that someone does not possess the academic background that is generally standard for common holders of a job. It is no more snobbery to suggest that the president ought to hold a bachelor’s degree than it is to suggest that a serious plumber ought to have a license. The conservatives throwing out ‘elitism’ and ‘snobbery’ are just using those words as a cheap way to try and end the debate because they have no good arguments to offer.

Walker becoming President of the United States would send a devastatingly bad image of America across the world. The optics of the greatest nation on the face of the earth today sending in a college dropout to represent it on the world stage are unspeakably miserable. Why should any proud American be comfortable having Walker as their international representative, sitting across from world leaders like Dr. Angela Merkel, research scientist and current German chancellor? Among the fantastically talented people with smorgasbords of degrees, it makes absolutely no sense to pick the degree-less Walker from the pack and elevate him just because he managed to be elected to run a state. This makes less sense when he is competing with successful governors and senators like Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio—people with degrees and professions outside politics, who managed to accomplish more in life than simply running for office and winning elections.

Interestingly, the conservatives who are championing Walker for president are the same people who claim to care about America’s image in the world. They were furious when President Obama bowed to a foreign potentate, and they make all sorts of arguments that infinitesimal actions by the president harm America’s image around the world. Even Obama appearing in various comedic sketches has been argued to “diminish the office of the president.” How, then, is it possible that these same people cannot comprehend that making a college dropout President of the United States in the 21st century sends a horrific image of the country to the rest of the world? The President of the United States is supposed to represent the best America has to offer. Whether one likes George W. Bush or not, despite his lack of eloquence, he was intelligent enough to earn an undergraduate degree from Yale and a notoriously rigorous MBA from Harvard Business School. Similarly, despite the protestations of Obama being an affirmative action recipient, it is hard to deny the fact that he graduated from Columbia and then magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. Although, at the time, real elitists maligned Reagan because he was not a graduate of an Ivy League college, Ronald Reagan earned his B.A. in economics and sociology from Eureka College in Illinois. There is absolutely no reason why someone like Walker should be considered for the presidency when he does not have a college degree or an otherwise impressive background. And, no, winning elections from college to gubernatorial races does not constitute an “impressive background.”

Some suggest that because America is not in perfect shape under Ivy League graduate Obama, having a college dropout in the Oval Office will make things better.  This is a nonsensical argument that presupposes that a good education is an impediment to effective leadership. Only someone averse to educational achievement can make such a farcical claim. Some also claim that there is a strong media conspiracy to take down Scott Walker and attack his academic past, in a way that was not done with President Obama. This is also silly. President Obama has two confirmed degrees from Columbia and Harvard Law School. Scott Walker has no degrees. The situations would be comparable if Obama had no degrees and the media ignored his background while praising his oratorical skills. Given that Obama’s academic credentials are not under dispute, except on the right-wing fringe, it is idiocy to suggest that there is a double standard between the media treatment of Obama and the treatment of Scott Walker. The situations are manifestly nonanalogous. What constitutes hypocrisy, however, is the conservative media punctiliously demanding to see President Obama’s college and law school grades, while simultaneously saying that Walker’s lack of a degree does not matter.

In another insane argument, Walker’s fans compare his educational attainment to Abraham Lincoln’s. Comparing Scott Walker to Abraham Lincoln is senseless. Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861. It was only in the 1840s, when Lincoln was in his thirties, that elementary education became a reality for most Americans under the common school movement. It took until the early 20th century for schooling in America to become mandatory. So reciting the point that impecunious Lincoln, born in 1809, only had a second-grade education is saying nothing of worth, under the guise of making a clever point. Similarly, in the nineteenth century, holding a baccalaureate degree was rare. Comparing Lincoln’s lack of formal education in the 1800s to Scott Walker’s lack of college education 154 years later is moronic, inasmuch as the baccalaureate degree was not the standard expectation of the average working professional then, as it is today. In any event, being a disciplined autodidact, Lincoln impressively managed to educate himself and become a lawyer by profession. This is a fact that those who compare Walker to Lincoln conveniently—and mendaciously—leave out. What has Walker done with his life except run for elections from his nascent years until almost age 50? What of consequence has he written or done to demonstrate the acquisition of profound knowledge worthy of becoming president? Lincoln educated himself and became a lawyer. Unlike Walker, Lincoln was not an ambitiously hubristic politician who started running for elections as soon his umbilical cord was cut at birth. He spent time learning a craft and was not educationally inferior to his peers.

Similarly, Scott Walker cannot even compare to President Harry Truman, the last American president to sit in the Oval Office without a college degree. Truman dropped out of college because he lost his state job. Scott Walker, by contrast, dropped out of college to take a job. The difference here is glaring. Truman was willing to work and go to school simultaneously. Walker, being a lazy and unfocused student, took a job rather than staying in school. Moreover, despite his lack of college education, Truman had extensive military experience. Even with his eyesight issues, which should have disqualified him from military service, Truman finagled his way into military uniform and became an accomplished military man who fought valiantly in World War I and demonstrated robust leadership skills that arguably warranted elevating him to Commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces. Unlike the degree-less Walker, Truman did more than win elections throughout his life before becoming president. It is also important to note that Truman became president during World War II in 1945. That was 70 years ago. At the time, only about 5 percent of Americans over age 25 had baccalaureate degrees. It was hardly considered the standard educational requirement for an entry-level professional job like it is today when over 30 percent of Americans have bachelor’s degrees. While it would have been prudent to overlook the lack of college education of an accomplished military man back in 1945, it makes little sense to do so for someone running for president in 2016—especially given his otherwise unspectacular resume and the accomplished competition he faces.

Another argument some offer is that Scott Walker not having a degree won’t matter because many Americans don’t have a bachelor’s degree. The first point here is that most Americans aren’t running to be the chief representative of the United States of America on the world stage, so comparing the qualifications desired of a president of the country to the average American makes precisely no sense. Moreover, just because most Americans don’t have college degrees does not mean that sensible Americans would not like their president to be in possession of one. Most Americans don’t have college degrees, but I am willing to wager they’d like their children’s teachers to have degrees. Those same Americans would never let a doctor operate on them without a medical degree and extensive training in surgery, even though they themselves have no medical degrees. Most Americans would not eat at restaurants that don’t have the necessary licensing to operate, even though they themselves may not have gone through culinary school. It is completely irrelevant to cite the fact that Scott Walker has a similar education to most Americans, inasmuch as he is not settling for being an average American. Again, he is vying to become the face of America on the world stage. The argument also presupposes that most Americans without degrees are narcissistic enough to take denunciations of Scott Walker’s lack of academic credentials personally. Most Americans are capable of looking at situations objectively and understanding that the President of the United States needs to be the best suited person for the job, and should have a robust academic background to be able to understand and cope with the intricacies of a globalized 21st century world.

It is curious that the Democratic Party has the reputation of being for the working-class, but would never be so naïve as to run someone for president who did not graduate from college in the 21st century. Only Republicans would be silly enough to do that, and they still struggle to shed their pro-big business and crony capitalism image. More importantly, the Democratic Party is interested in being a party that is respected as one that values academic achievement. Republicans, by contrast, treat anti-intellectualism and a lack of academic achievement as a badge of honor. This is just an insincere attempt to appeal to rubes, because most of the people defending Walker have elite degrees, send their children to elite schools, and privately snicker at the rubes they are conning while sipping Chablis at plush cocktail parties.

Scott Walker, as far as the presidency is concerned, is still a relatively young man. He only became eligible to become president as far as age is concerned 12 years ago. He has not reached age 50 yet. If Walker is serious about becoming president, he should finish his term as governor of Wisconsin, then take some time off and get some academic credentials. In as little as two years, depending on schools and their programs, Walker could finish his undergraduate degree and earn a master’s degree. After all, most of the Republicans running for president earned graduate degrees, even though they bash college education in an attempt to appeal to the rubes in the Republican base. He could be a serious Republican challenger in 2024. It is unbelievably arrogant to attempt to ascend to the White House without a college degree in the 21st century. Walker may have been able to win elections from his college years and become Governor of Wisconsin, but being elected President of the United States is a horse of another color. Should Republicans choose to make him their nominee for president, they will be making a colossal mistake.

Some people think it is a refulgent symbol of being a good person that they would consider voting for someone to be president when such a person does not have a degree in the 21st century. They also believe arguing that someone should not be president because he or she does not have a degree is tantamount to an unacceptable kind of discrimination. This is nonsense. Choosing not to vote for someone who does not have a college degree is a legitimate gripe. Similarly, there is no moral virtue in choosing to elect someone president because he or she does not have a college education. This has nothing to do with class discrimination. Scott Walker had every opportunity to finish college. He chose not to do so.

No sensible person makes the argument that any person who did not graduate from college is an ignoramus incapable of being an upstanding citizen and making great, intelligent contributions to society. No serious person argues that a college degree is required of an individual before he or she can be trusted to engage in basic adult activities. Pointing out that Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and a plethora of other entrepreneurs who started billion-dollar technology empires are all college dropouts is completely irrelevant to the point that someone aspiring to become president of the greatest country on the planet ought to have a college degree. A president represents a country internationally, therefore such a person ought to meet basic internationally recognized educational attainment expectations. By contrast, an entrepreneur works for himself and does not represent an entire country of people. There are many people who lack a college education who are intelligent and valuable members of society, but such people who are devoid of the basic qualification of an entry-level professional worker should not become president, irrespective of how intelligent they are. There are all sorts of rules that bar so many otherwise qualified people from becoming president. People who are not natural-born citizens of the United States cannot become president. Someone who is under the age of 35 cannot become president. Given the importance of the office, it is understandable that such rules exist. Because the office of the presidency is such an important position, it makes perfect sense to expect the head of the executive branch to at least have a baccalaureate degree. This is not snobbery. This is not elitism. This is a basic expectation. Those who think otherwise are engaging in, to borrow President George W. Bush’s phrase, “the bigotry of low expectations”—and they are unwittingly diminishing the office of the presidency and America’s standing in the world.