As I write this, the No. 1 “most read” story on the Washington Post’s website is its investigation into the college years of Scott Walker, headlined: “As Scott Walker mulls White House bid, questions linger over college exit.” Most of the time, you don’t need to read such a story to know what it’s about: for Republicans, every silly comment or stunt in their teenage years is in the public interest, and for Democrats the same investigative practice is racist, racist, racist. (Though in 2016 it will be sexist, sexist, sexist.) But there is one aspect of this story that is tangentially related to issues that a rational voter might actually care about. It’s just not what the Post thinks.
The story didn’t come up with anything newsworthy–not even a case of Walker cutting somebody’s hair, like the alleged monster Mitt Romney apparently did. The headline alludes to this monumental failure of journalism: “questions linger” is journospeak for: “we asked a bunch of questions.” In other words, the story is about the media, not Walker. And “questions” only “linger” because their answers were a nonstory. When a newspaper gets its questions answered but still wants to talk only about its questions, they’re basically Geraldo at the opening of the vault.
So why should anyone care? For one, the questions about Walker not finishing school will keep coming up in part because leftists will seek to tie it to Walker’s education policy. A good example of this comes from MSNBC’s David Taintor, who offers the following lede to a story about Walker’s education budget cuts:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 GOP contender who never earned a college degree, has proposed a huge cut in funding for the University of Wisconsin system over the next two years.
Now, is that framing of the issue, to borrow a phrase from A Few Good Men, galactically stupid? Yes, it surely is galactically stupid. But that only makes it more likely that others on the left will use this formulation.
When you combine the budget cuts with the Post’s story on how Walker wasn’t an engaged student and never earned his degree, you see the left painting a certain picture: Not only did Walker not graduate, but he’s out for revenge against the system of higher education that was so unwelcome to him in his youth. A more benign version would hold that he just doesn’t value what they do, but that’s hard to square with the fact that his son attends Marquette, the same school Walker dropped out of.
Is Walker’s college history truly relevant to his budget approach? No. But the line of questioning, and the liberal focus on Walker’s dropout status, is quite relevant to the debate heading into 2016. That’s because Walker’s success despite not obtaining that degree represents a real threat to the government’s education cartel, the public unions it sustains, and the maintenance of the pipeline of left-liberal groupthink and its young adherents.
There is not, and has not been for a long time, a question of the existence of overwhelming liberal bias at institutions of higher education. The inquiries into the phenomenon focus on why that structural bias exists and persists. Whatever the reasons, it’s easy to understand why the liberal establishment wants to protect the biased architecture of American education.
And protect it they do. A college degree has become a kind of certification for entry into many of the higher reaches of the American economy. The government benefits from this financially by running the student-loan scheme, which drives up tuition costs and thus benefits not only big government but its liberal allies in academic administration.
And it’s a self-perpetuating cycle, which is why Democrats are so keen to guard it jealously. The system as it’s currently set up means educational attainment correlates, in general, to higher income. But that education gets increasingly expensive, which puts it in easier reach of those with higher income, who tend to have more education, etc. As the Economist notes, “the best predictor of an American child’s success in school has long been the parents’ educational level”–though money, which is also now related to educational level, “is an increasingly important factor.”
The Democrats’ approach thus perpetuates inequality, which they blame on “the rich” in order to win national office, which they use to perpetuate this system of inequality–another cycle.
Scott Walker calls this whole scheme into question. It’s not that his experience teaches that you don’t need a college degree to get a good job; it’s that you shouldn’t need to need a college degree to have professional and/or political success. Kids shouldn’t be discouraged from going to college and getting their degree as long as the current system persists, in which it usually makes sense for them to get that degree (if they can).
The point is that the system itself shouldn’t persist, at least in its current form. Walker, then, is living proof that the system can and should be reformed, and the world won’t end. Walker is representative of the potential of those outside the liberal economic elite and those who are severely underserved by the government’s college racket and union-friendly approach to education. That’s why Walker’s personal story matters, and why it’s such a threat to the left.