Does a 21st Century President Need a College Degree?

February 4th, 2015

For the record, I don’t know yet who I’ll support for the GOP nomination for president.  Fortunately for Republicans, I believe there are many good candidates to choose from, unlike the Democrats, who must hope that Hillary Clinton won’t falter down the stretch like she did in 2008.

So while I’m not yet ready to commit one way or the other, I must say that so far I do like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  I’ll put him on a list as currently under consideration. Evidently, lots of other people feel the same way because with the exit of Mitt Romney from the race, Walker is jumping to the top of many polls including recent polls of Iowa Republican voters.

With the quick ascent up the candidate ladder naturally comes attacks and criticism.  These days, this usually comes at the hands of fellow Republicans who are eager to knock the new guy off his pedestal.  In Walker’s case, it’s not just other Republicans trying to score points against him.  Through his elections and recall battle, Walker has made deep and angry enemies of lots of union members and Democratic operatives as well.

So what’s the first attack launched against this emerging presidential candidate?

He didn’t graduate from college.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t attend college.  He actually attended Marquette University from 1986 to 1990, but in his senior year, he left.  Stories vary, but it’s estimated that Walker is about a year shy in credit hours from graduating.  Many times since becoming governor, Walker has intimated that he’ll take the time at some point to finish his degree. Responding to requests for information, Marquette University officials make clear that Walker left school in good standing.  He claims he quit to take a job with the American Red Cross while some critics assert he left to focus on running for office.

Whatever the reason, Walker didn’t earn a degree.  Read the comments on any article discussing Governor Walker in the past few days, and you’ll see that the long knives are out over his lack of a diploma.

For Walker and his presidential aspirations, is this a big deal?

The fact is it’s already an issue.  The question is whether or not it’s a serious issue and one he can overcome.

It’s funny how the matter is evolving.  Walker’s natural political enemies have made it an issue since the day he first ran for governor, and obviously he’s overcome it with his performance on the job. Still, the issue remains a nagging thorn in his side.

As he’s emerged as a serious potential candidate for president, it’s coming up a lot lately, but many times it’s couched in a way intended to appear supportive or fair minded and sensitive, and yet the whole purpose in mentioning it in the first place appears to be intended to bring it to the public’s attention thus reminding us all in a subliminal way that it’s likely something that will ultimately cost him votes.

For instance, columnist Al Hunt wrote a piece called “Can Walker Be President Without a College Degree?”  His conclusion appears to suggest that he could, but it’s done in a rather backhanded way.  For instance, in the end, he notes that Abraham Lincoln was a great president without a college degree and James Buchanan was an awful president with one.

That’s fine but for the fact that these two men ran for president initially in 1856 (Buchanan) and 1860 (Lincoln).  As Hunt writes, Buchanan had a degree which was rare for men of his time.  Meanwhile, he notes that the only president without a college degree in recent U.S. history is Harry S Truman who was born in 1884.  That’s hardly helpful to bolster the case for a man born in 1967.

While Walker’s education is an issue in some circles, others are quickly dismissing it as no big deal.  After all, some of America’s most successful businessmen (e.g., Bill Gates and Steve Jobs) failed to earn a college degree. That leaves Walker with an argument in response.

If you can start and run Microsoft and Apple without a degree, you can also probably run the United States government. After all, recent history indicates that even though you have a very prestigious diploma on your wall, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re guaranteed to be a great president either (or even a good one for that matter).


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