They certainly do, if the deep dive into Scott Walker’s thirty-year-old academic record is any indication. Walker may become the most famous college dropout since Bill Gates — or maybe Steve Jobs — or perhaps Mark Zuckerberg. Walker cites all three in this interview with Fox’s Megyn Kelly, in which he also blasts Big Labor for picketing his parents over the state budget proposal, which would cut spending for state-run colleges:
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker dropped out of college, and some critics are saying this should be a dealbreaker for his potential presidential bid. Howard Dean, for example, said last week that Walker might be “unknowledgeable” and “the issue is, how well educated is this guy?”
Walker appeared on Fox News tonight and told Megyn Kelly it’s just the “elitist government-knows-best top-down approach from Washington,” and argued the country hasn’t exactly been faring well under an Ivy League president.
Kelly cites this Washington Post article as a springboard for the conversation, with its “questions linger over college exit” meme, even while no questions linger at all. Walker left college on his own volition, not for academic or ethical violations, as all sources confirm. Walker waived his privacy rights to allow Marquette to answer all the questions reporters have on the subject. The best that anyone can do is to quote one of Walker’s professors to say that a course on the politics of the Third World “utterly bored” him. At 19 years old? You don’t say.
The fact that this is all three decades ago seems to have slipped past the same media that had very little curiosity about Barack Obama’s records from college. Obama never did do what Walker did — release his colleges from privacy restrictions so that they could discuss his academic performance. That’s the way credentialism works, though; it’s a res ipsa loquitur certificate, one that establishes a baseline for those who have no experience in a field. With a couple of notable exceptions, such as law or medical practice, no one cares much about how one did in getting the degree, but only the fact that you have one at all. Elites love this kind of credentialism, in part because it supports the academic systems they love, in part because it allows them to avoid the real work of defending actual policy and track records, and in part because snobbishness allows them to turn up their noses to the hoi polloi.
Walker is making sure that it’s the latter impulse he’s highlighting, because it’s the take that will offend voters between the coastal enclaves of academic progressives. The real problem for Walker’s opponents with this tactic is that it will emphasize his experience — which, as I explain in my column today for The Week, will matter a lot more to voters than whether a teenage Walker was bored in a classroom in 1987:
Some who have leapt to Walker’s defense have derided the Ivy League degrees of those currently in power and suggested that a lack of a degree might provide an improvement. But that also misses the point. There is undeniable value in finishing college and getting a degree. It provides the graduate with a good start in life, in both the education it administers and the credential received, which at least attests to some degree of commitment in one’s youth.
But that’s all it signifies, at least in the context of politics. Walker has been in public life for 25 years, running for a seat in the Wisconsin state legislature at age 22, and winning a seat in 1993. After nine years in the assembly, Walker won election as Milwaukee county executive, serving in that position for eight years before winning the gubernatorial election in 2010. Walker has built his career in public service on his own actions, not on the strength of his college education, and has done well enough to win re-election not once but twice for the top spot, thanks to an ill-fated recall election prompted by his reforms in public-employee union collective bargaining.
By this point, Walker’s college track record is as irrelevant as anything else not related to his public service, and certainly less relevant than the educational records of those with less experience in executive management. Walker jokes that he has a master’s degree in “taking on the big-government special interests,” but in truth he has 13 years in high-profile public-sector executive jobs, including more than four years as governor. That is far more experience, and a much more predictive track record, than others have had before running for governor or president, including the current occupant of the White House. Much was made of Barack Obama’s Ivy League credentials, but as the disastrous ObamaCare rollout and the collapse of his foreign policy show, voters should have paid less attention to the papers on his wall and more attention to his lack of experience.
Getting the best possible start in life is a great idea, even more so today than it was 30 years ago for me, or 60 years ago for my dad. It’s the life that counts, though, not the start. When it comes to choosing the next commander in chief, that is the credential that will be the most predictive — and voters will likely grasp that as well.
Be sure to read it all, as it also includes some of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way about credentialism and the benefit of a good start in life.