Scott Walker was gone. Dropped out. And in the spring of his senior year.
In 1990, that news stunned his friends at Marquette University. Walker, the campus’s suit-wearing, Reagan-loving politico — who enjoyed the place so much that he had run for student body president — had left without graduating.
To most of the Class of 1990 — and, later, to Wisconsin’s political establishment — Walker’s decision to quit college has been a lingering mystery.
If Walker makes it to the Oval Office, he would be the first elected president without a college degree since Harry Truman. And before him, you’d have to go all the way back to 1897 to William McKinley. In the current Congress, 94% of House members and 100% of Senators have at least a bachelor’s degree. And most of them have even more education: 64% of House members and 74% of Senators have an advanced degree.
These statistics point to the central tension over what we expect from our politicians. The fact that 30% of America has a college degree but 99% of our Senators do clearly demonstrates a bias towards education at the ballot box, or at least shows that higher education is tied somehow to other factors that help get a politician elected. But on the other hand, election cycles are full of candidates eating the state’s famous corn dogs and drinking beer with locals, all in the service of proving that they’re “just like you.”
Sixty-eight percent of Americans ages 25 or older do not have a bachelor’s degree. That’s 142 million potential voters who might be offended by attacks on Walker’s educational status. Attacking Walker for not having a degree is basically telling 68 percent of Americans they’re unqualified to be president.
Furthermore, Walker still has more education than nearly two-thirds of the country. He amassed college credits equivalent to three-quarters of a bachelor’s degree during his time at Marquette. Only 37 percent of Americans over age 25 have at least three years of college education.
Insisting on academic credentials as a way of evaluating leadership abilities — let alone suggesting that being a few credits shy of an undergraduate degree is disqualifying — is so worthless that it boggles the mind that Democrats would even float this as a talking point. In fact, based on the 2014 mid-term results, Democrats’ inability to woo white voters without college degrees is starting to really hurt them at the ballot box.
For decades now, America’s higher education system has poorly served Americans. If you can weld, you can land a job making six-figures tomorrow. If you recently acquired a B.A. in sociology, well, can you tell me how you do that thing where you make the foam on top a latte look like a heart? There’s a reason why the lack of a college degree is practically celebrated in Silicon Valley. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are all college dropouts. Peter Thiel says a college “diploma is a dunce hat in disguise” and wants to blow the higher-ed system up entirely. Sixty-three of the people on the Forbes 400 don’t have college degrees.
Pointing all this out is not to devalue education. I, for one, am glad Howard Dean went to medical school before becoming a doctor. But most liberal arts degrees are overrated as a precondition for success and they are indisputably overpriced — hence the current student loan crisis. In the Internet era, there are many, many new ways to become educated. This sudden suspicion of Scott Walker seems a product of the fact that higher education is a world that liberals control utterly, and the entire economic model supporting it is on the verge of collapse. If the American people start to get hip to the idea that people such as Mark Zuckerberg and, yes, Scott Walker can succeed without a degree, well, that’s one less power base for liberals—and a lot more independently educated voters who are going to think for themselves.
[R]emarkably, for a man who has run for high office, Walker didn’t have a ready-to-repeat answer on evolution. His staff didn’t even know his views before drafting the statement.
But Walker learned a few lessons. First, there’s no protection from out-of-the-blue questions. Second, Republicans, as Webb suggested, get special treatment when traveling abroad. And third, it doesn’t matter if a candidate wants to talk about cheese and industrial sand, he’s never the one setting the agenda.
Both science & my faith dictate my belief that we are created by God. I believe faith & science are compatible, & go hand in hand.
— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) February 11, 2015
It's unfortunate the media chose to politicize this issue during our trade mission to foster investment in WI.
— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) February 11, 2015
The real problem is that these episodes feed the bogus notion that Democrats are less prone to ignore settled science than Republicans. And the same journalists who fixate on “science” that makes the faithful look like slack-jawed yokels almost inevitably ignore science that has genuine moral and policy implications.
So in other words, any science that isn’t “climate change.”…
How many of candidates or journalists could answer this question with any useful specificity? (My colleague Sean Davis has already exposed how some of the pundits who unconditionally “believe in evolution” know very little about it.) This is because “do you believe in evolution” is an inane question. Do I believe in natural selection? Or do I obediently accept every macroevolutionary theory that’s ever been thrown my way?
For me, it’s plausible to believe that slug-like creatures emerged from primordial slime and after millions of fortuitous accidents over hundreds of millions of years emerged as politicians. Most people, though, disagree. According to 2012 Gallup poll, along with plenty of Republicans, 41 percent of Democrats believe God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. So, around the same number of liberals that believe there’s something to astrology. What are the views of Democratic candidates?
Conservatives want to change what questions are acceptable and natural for reporters to ask; they feel that the last week’s revealed a deep bias. Walker’s evolution question came only a week after Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was asked several questions about vaccination. The conclusion of vaccines-gate was actually every leading Republican affirming that parents needed to vaccinate their kids; on the right, the week has been remembered as liberals inventing a false narrative about “anti-vaxxers.” Even the New York Times, which had been printing comprehensive reports on the “anti-vax” panic in liberal enclaves, asked whether vaccines would create a tangle for conservatives, comparable to “the dance Republican candidates often do when they hedge their answers about whether evolution should be taught in schools.”
Walker, who does not have a college degree, is a perfect avatar for the conservative backlash. If some future Democratic candidate gets asked when life begins, or whether gender is determined by chromosomes, or whether GMOs* are safe, it can be traced back to the week conservatives got fed up with “science gotchas”—just as liberals once got fed up with gotchas about Iraq, and voted with their checkbooks.
Declarations like “I believe in evolution” or “evolution is fact” are not serious thoughts but badges of identity. As David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner observes in a tweet: “I’d rather see Walker say yes, he believes in evolution. But the Q as posed to a POTUS candidate is just a white-gentry-liberal dog whistle.” He elaborates: “For a certain kind of person—white, northeastern, high-income, college degree or more—it tells you whether someone is ‘our people.’ ”
When a reporter asks the question, it’s more a hazing ritual than a serious query. (Walker is being put through other forms of hazing as well; see today’s Washington Post story on “questions” that “linger” about his “college exit.” The answer, deep in the piece, is that Walker was “in good standing” when he left Marquette University.)
To this sort of question, the correct answer is one that demonstrates not one’s knowledge but one’s political acumen. Walker has little chance of winning votes from people whose identity is tied up with a “belief” in evolution. But he needs to avoid losing votes from those on the opposite side of that divide as well as from those who find self-righteous fundamentalism off-putting whether it is in the name of religion or science.
To borrow a phrase from the campus left, Darwinism is used to “otherize” certain people of traditional faith — and the politicians who want their vote. Many of the same people who bleat with fear over the dangers of genetically modified food, fracking, vaccines, or nuclear power and coo with childlike awe over the benefits of non-traditional medicines will nonetheless tell you they are for “science” when in fact they are simply against a certain kind of Christian having any say about anything…
Presidents have become avatars in the culture war being fought across the Internet and the airwaves, and nothing gives secular liberal journalists more of a buzz than exposing the alleged backwardness of those they consider backward. It’s a cultural wedge issue used by the very people who claim they hate cultural wedge issues.
Views on evolution don’t actually tell you anything about how a politician will act or how he’ll approach science-based issues. Neither do they give any insight into public attitudes toward science…
If you want an actual heuristic for whether a given person is going to support science-based policy, your best bet is to ask their party affiliation. If he is a Democrat, then regardless of his views on evolution, he is likely to support action on climate change or want to strengthen environmental protections. And if she is a Republican, the opposite is probably true…
There are a few scenarios where it makes sense to ask a politician about evolution. For someone who wants to shape school curriculums, those beliefs are vital. But even then, it’s difficult to draw a firm conclusion. A creationist school-board member might still want students to use mainstream science textbooks, regardless of her views on the question. Alternatively, there are times in national politics where evolution—as a matter of educational policy—hits the national stage. Then, it makes sense.
But at this moment in American life, there’s no need for questions about evolution. They simply don’t tell you anything you couldn’t learn by asking a direct question about a specific issue.
When someone asks a politician whether he “believes in” evolution, he is not asking for a scientific opinion. If you want a scientific opinion, you ask a scientist, not a politician. What is instead being sought with that question is one of two things: 1) a profession of faith, not in science but in the half-informed worldview of the “I F******g Love Science,” Neil deGrasse Tyson–meme-affirming, enjoying-scientific-prestige-by-proxy crowd, or 2) a shameful public confession that one is a knuckle-dragging science “denier” who believes that the fossil record is a conspiracy of archeologists who get up in the morning and go to bed at night fuming about how much they hate the Baby Jesus. It is a purely political and rhetorical exercise…
I have made the point here a dozen times — and you’d think that one of these big-on-science guys like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye would take up the cause — that there is in reality an important federal project under way giving rank pseudoscience and pure hokum the force of law: Obamacare, which, thanks to the efforts of Senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), will oblige taxpayers to subsidize all manner of scientifically illegitimate “alternative medicine.” Everybody wants to know what Scott Walker and Sarah Palin think about evolution, but almost nobody is asking what Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama think about homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and the like. The same people who are scandalized that Walker doesn’t want to talk about something that he doesn’t know the first thing about celebrate as the most important health-care advance in a generation a law that treats as legitimate sundry species of quackery based in pure mysticism…
As usual, it comes down to aesthetics: If you’re a coastal progressive type, people who believe that every word of the Bible is literally true in a natural-history sense are creepy and weird, but when Dr. Moonbeam McEarthgoddess promises to manipulate your mystical energy pathways so that your qi cures your osteoarthritis — then, bring on the federal subsidies.
But what we see now is the “full Alinsky.” The Left is throwing just about everything in the book at Walker early on, trying to Romneyize him: define him and put him so far back on the defensive that he can never recover. With support from the MSM, which is now thrashing about trying to figure out why he left college, the progressive Left is perfectly following Alinky’s Rule for Radicals No. 12: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” This is exactly what is happening today.
Walker has been picked because the Left senses in him a real electoral threat, thanks to his competence, common sense, and electoral prowess. They’re freezing him by smearing his character and intellect, detracting from any message that he might have that could move forward the debate on public policy. They’re personalizing it by painting him as sinister, reactionary, a dunce, whatever works that week, but keeps national attention on his personality failings. And they’re polarizing him by darkly insinuating that he doesn’t think like the rest of us, and is thus a danger to things we hold dear, like evolution or public-sector unions.
The bad news is that if Walker’s people don’t fight back twice as hard early on, they may be playing defense the entire game. It’s hard since they can’t fire back at a political opponent as they could in a campaign. That is the truly insidious part of the progressive media’s strategy. Whom do you go after, the Washington Post or Slate? But, Walker’s camp can respond in general by employing Alinsky’s Rule No. 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” Ridicule back those who fear someone without a college degree, or someone who takes on bloodsucking unions. Don’t let up.