Every major presidential candidate, at least in modern times, has come to expect a thorough review of their background. It just comes with the territory, and while occasionally unpleasant, it’s arguably a valuable part of the process.
And if part of a candidate’s background is particularly unusual, it stands to reason that this will be of particular interest to political reporters looking for something interesting to say about candidates. For example, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) doesn’t have a college degree, a detail noted in an interesting Washington Post report yesterday.
I get the sense the right is feeling a bit defensive about this, for reasons that seem wholly unnecessary. RedState, for example, had this item last night (thanks to my colleague Kent Jones for the heads-up):
I fully understand and even approve of the need to vet candidates who are running for the highest office in the land, or any office for that matter. The public needs to know the character of the person who will represent their will. But, the media chose not to do that for Barack Obama, and they are maliciously slinging mud against a man who hasn’t officially announced it yet. The bias is plain as day and, sadly, it’s unsurprising.
I honestly have no idea what this is supposed to mean. For one thing, Obama’s life was under the microscope for two years in the 2008 campaign and we learned about his background in granular detail. If he didn’t graduate from college, I imagine the Washington Post would have done a piece about that, too.
For another, noting that a top-tier Republican presidential hopeful didn’t graduate is hardly evidence of “malicious mud-slinging.” Indeed, read the Post piece – it doesn’t mock the governor’s lack of a degree so much as it tells readers about the fact that Walker went to Marquette for a few years before dropping out.
So why get so defensive?
For his part, Rush Limbaugh told his listeners today that Walker should tell people, “I left college because I didn’t want to be accused of rape someday.” The right-wing host added, “Now he can’t say that, of course. But, I mean, just ram it right down their throats. They’re trying to create this ‘rape culture’ on the campus.”
Bizarre rhetoric from conservative media notwithstanding, I should note that I haven’t heard a peep about Walker’s education from Democrats – ever. Given that most Americans don’t have a college degree, this isn’t too surprising – no one wants to come across as an elitist. Walker’s record and far-right ideology offer his detractors plenty to work with, and the fact that he doesn’t have a degree is hardly the most glaring problem with his likely presidential campaign.
That said, it is a historic oddity and the right should probably get used to some discussion about this. Alan Flippen recently looked at recent history and noted that Walker, whether he wins or loses, would be the “first major candidate” to run for president without at least a Bachelor’s degree since then-Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) in 1988.
If Walker gets the GOP nomination, he’d be the first major-party nominee to not have a college degree since then-Sen. Barry Goldwater’s (R-Ariz.) unsuccessful campaign in 1964.
And if Walker is elected to the White House, he’d be the first president without a degree since Harry Truman. (Truman is also the only president since the 19th century to serve as president without at least a Bachelor’s. Truman, of course, was elevated to the office after FDR died. The last time Americans elected a new president who didn’t have a degree? McKinley in 1896.)
Whether or not this is an important part of the campaign is largely up to voters – people will either care or they won’t. I’d be very surprised, however, if Democrats made a big deal out of this, and Walker’s admirers probably shouldn’t freak out every time a news outlet notes a basic, factual detail about the governor’s biography.