Approximately 100 percent of the people I know graduated college. Many of them also have master’s degrees, J.D.s, and MBAs. In my world, those without such credentials are almost exotic.
But my world is unusual. As a Manhattan-based political commentor and think-tank scholar, I work and play with other members of the chattering classes who occupy newsrooms, TV studios, research institutions, and university classrooms in the so-called Bos-Wash corridor. This coastal strip, between the Charles and Potomac rivers, houses the Eastern elite. In this habitat, my Georgetown A.B. and NYU MBA are rather unremarkable. The bankers, consultants, and publicists who are my neighbors also festoon their offices with framed diplomas.
To some in this small but influential cohort, the notion of a president of the United States without such distinctions seems unusual, if not unthinkable.
Now comes Scott Walker, arguably the front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Wisconsin’s recently reelected governor attended Marquette University. However, during the spring of his senior year, he withdrew “in good standing,” according to school officials. Walker went to work full-time for the American Red Cross. He never finished his degree and, thus, is not a college graduate.
This is more than some members of the elite can bear.
Scott Walker: College dropout.
“Scott Walker, were he to become president, would be the first president in many generations that [sic] did not have a college degree,” former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, M.D., fretted on MSNBC on February 12. Dean called Walker “unknowledgeable” and added: “The issue is how well educated is this guy? And that’s a problem. . . . I think there are going to be a lot of people who worry about that.”
One thing driving this sentiment is the sense among the well-insulated ruling class that “everyone graduated from college.” True, everyone we know did. However, this is not true nationally. Without a college degree, Walker may look like a space alien among those who frequent Amtrak’s high-speed Acela train. However, his education level makes him a remarkably typical American.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, among American adults age 18 and above, those with college degrees in 2014 totaled 18.9 percent. Even in Washington, D.C. — America’s “best educated” city (which says plenty) — college graduates are a minority. As of 2010, only 48.6 percent of Washingtonians had completed college.
And what about voters? Edison Media Research’s exit poll for national news organizations indicates that college graduates constituted 29 percent of those who cast ballots in November 2012.
In other words, 71 percent of general-election voters and 81 percent of American adults lack college degrees. Scott Walker is in very, very good company.
• Motion-picture legend Walt Disney
• Cornerstone of American literature F. Scott Fitzgerald
• Microsoft founder Bill Gates
• ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings
• Apple founder Steve Jobs
• Beatles co-founder John Lennon
• Whole Foods CEO John Mackey
• CNN founder and America’s largest landowner Ted Turner
• Media mogul Oprah Winfrey
• Architectural pioneer Frank Lloyd Wright
• Inventors of manned flight Orville and Wilbur Wright
• Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
Harry Truman was the last president to serve without a college diploma. He nonetheless mustered the courage and decisiveness to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, swiftly ending World War II. Despite the carnage beneath the mushroom clouds, Truman very likely prevented hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — of American and Japanese deaths, had the conflict devolved into house-to-house combat across Japan itself.
Truman humanely and generously supervised the rehabilitation of Japan under General Douglas MacArthur. Truman oversaw the Marshall Plan and the reconstruction of Europe. He desegregated the U.S. armed forces, commanded the Berlin Airlift — which kept that city from collapsing into Soviet hands — and helped launch NATO. While the Korean War might have been fought to victory, the division of the Korean peninsula kept the south free. This was a happier ending than what befell Vietnam a generation later.
All in all, not shabby for a man with no sheepskin on the wall.
Of course, holding prestigious degrees does not guarantee intelligent governance.
President George W. Bush earned a Yale B.A. in history and a Harvard MBA. Neither of these achievements made him smart enough not to spend America into a hole, launch new entitlements, sign McCain-Feingold and Sarbanes-Oxley, ban the Edison lightbulb, catch every javelin hurled after the lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina, bail out banks and nationalize companies during the 2008 economic meltdown, or leave the White House amid bipartisan jeers and a final Pew Research job-approval rating of 24 percent.
With a B.A. in political science from Columbia University, a J.D. from Harvard (and the presidency of its law review), and a professorship at the University of Chicago Law School, Obama should be governing with the wisdom of Solomon.
Obama: Graduate, Columbia University and Harvard Law School.
Instead, the U.S. economy has been stuck in first or second gear for over six years. He has ballooned the national debt by 71 percent (from $10.6 trillion to $18.1 trillion). Obama squandered America’s long-cherished triple-A credit rating.
The Middle East is an ever-growing bonfire. America is neither feared nor respected nor loved. Rather, it has become the world’s sole remaining super-punchline, as Obama draws red lines in the sand that soon blow away.
Obama disses global leaders gathered to denounce radical Islamic terrorism. He cannot even utter that phrase. The day after skipping that post–Charlie Hebdo march in Paris, Obama did find time to party in the White House with the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. On February 10, the day that Washington confirmed the death of American hostage Kayla Mueller in ISIS captivity, Obama made a preening jackass of himself before a filthy mirror and then horsed around with a selfie-stick. Buzzfeed’s cameras documented Obama’s latest defilement of his office.
And over the weekend, as ISIS captured al-Baghdadi — an Iraqi town just five miles away from 300 U.S. Marines stationed at the al-Asad air base — King Putt was in Palm Springs playing his 217th round of golf as president. The ayatollahs, the Castro brothers, Hamas, Kim Jong-un, and Vladimir Putin must be crying with laughter.
In contrast, and without a college degree, Scott Walker essentially has won five state-level campaigns in four years. Atop his 2010 election and 2014 reelection, in 2012 he became the only governor in American history to survive a recall vote. Walker also withstood two additional challenges designed to hobble him after he modernized Wisconsin’s public-employee labor laws. In 2011, Democrats tried to seize the state senate by dislodging six GOP legislators and attempted to flip the conservative supreme-court majority by backing liberal JoAnne Kloppenburg’s bid to unseat incumbent David Prosser Jr. Governor Walker and his supporters crushed these Democrat gambits.
Until recently, national “experts” dismissed Walker as irreparably bland and uncharismatic. And yet the 47-year-old makes victory look like a snap. “He is known for an astounding political hot streak,” David A. Fahrenthold explained in the February 11 Washington Post. “Since 1993, he has run 11 races for state legislature, county executive, and governor — including a highly unusual recall election in 2012 — and he has won them all.”
Wisconsin’s state deficit was $3.6 billion when Walker arrived. It’s now a $517 million surplus. On his watch, unemployment plunged from 7.7 percent to 5.2 percent. (It’s 5.7 percent nationally.) Chief Executive ranked Wisconsin No. 41 among states in which to do business when Walker took office. It’s now No. 14. The Badger State’s rainy-day fund has swelled from $1.7 million to $279 million. Wisconsin is the only state with a fully funded public-pension system. Walker has achieved these things, and much more, while also cutting taxes by some $2 billion.
Walker has accomplished all of this not in Arkansas, Utah, or some other GOP stronghold. Instead, he has implemented these conservative, free-market policies in a loyally Democratic state that last went Republican for president in 1984 — for Ronald Reagan.
Not bad for a college dropout.
— Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.