Dropouts and Politics and Cats-NY Times

JANUARY 14, 2015

Gail Collins
Let’s talk about governors. Or college dropouts.

Wow, we’ve only been together for a few seconds and already I sense a strong preference for college dropouts. Lucky I didn’t say, “Let’s talk about governors. Or cats.”

A number of our governors are currently nursing presidential ambitions. Why not? They have experience running things and dealing with cranky legislators. Also, they look at the herd of presidential hopefuls and think, “Clearly, I could do better.” This is true of every elected official down to and including members of the zoning board of appeals, but we tend to take governors more seriously.

The most brazen prospective candidate, Chris Christie, prepared for his State of the State speech this week with a special off-the-record press conference to which only national journalists were invited. Honest — he barred the state reporters from his discussion of the state of the state. Maybe the governor was afraid they’d distract him with small-bore questions about New Jersey’s eight credit downgrades.

Then it was on to the speech, during which Christie talked about America’s world leadership (“called into question”) and the state of the nation (“beset by anxiety”). And if you don’t believe that last part, he had a story about a little old lady he met in Florida.

Meanwhile, Gov. Mike Pence stuck pretty much to Indiana. …

Whoops, I feel you drifting away at the words “Mike Pence.” Well, he appears to have presidential ambitions as well. Plus two cats named Pickle and Oreo.
Now that I’ve regained your attention, let’s consider Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. Walker really, really wants to run for president. His State of the State speech was about opposing terrorism and shrinking the government, plus 10 billion mentions of the Green Bay Packers. He’s already hired a political consultant for his run. The consultant’s claim to fame is having helped oversee the presidential campaign of Rudy Giuliani, but nobody’s perfect.

If Walker was elected, he’d be the first president without a college degree since Harry Truman. Yes! This is the college dropout connection. How important do you think it is for a president to have a college degree? If Walker gets traction, I am looking forward to digging into this a lot. Perhaps it will give me a chance to explain why William Henry Harrison quit medical school in 1791.

Walker went to Marquette University in Milwaukee. I went to Marquette, too. Had a great time. Unlike Walker, I got a degree. Only one of us is a governor, so there’s a point for the dropouts right there.

His early departure may have had something to do with disappointment over an unsuccessful career in campus politics. Or just not being very into school. Apparently, Walker was a mediocre student. By the way, how much do we care about presidential prospects’ college grades? Not much — these are middle-aged people, for heaven’s sake. Actually, we just need to be sure that if the grades were bad, the candidate has gotten over it.

John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004 was hobbled by outrageous attacks on his war record, which Kerry might have been able to bury by releasing all his Navy records. He wouldn’t, until long after the race was over. Then reporters discovered that everything about his military career was exactly as Kerry had portrayed it. The only news was in his college transcript, which was included in the file and pretty dismal. I’ve always wondered if the entire course of modern American history would have turned out different if John Kerry had not wanted to conceal the fact that his academic performance at Yale was worse than George W. Bush’s.

As far as quitting school goes, Walker left during his senior year to take a marketing job with the local chapter of the American Red Cross. This doesn’t seem totally unreasonable. He obviously wasn’t into school. And in many lines of work, it’s only the job history that matters.

However, we want to make sure that when students of the future are making decisions like this, they’re grounded in reality. Walker claimed that he was about to get the rest of his credits while he was working, but then he got married. (Actually, as PolitiFact Wisconsin reported in a stupendously thorough investigation of this matter, he had several years of potential night school time before he wed.) Then he was going to go, but he was county executive and too busy. And it keeps going on.

“Maybe in the next few years,” he told reporters in 2013.

This is a bad sign. I think I speak for all of us when I say we do not want to hear any arguments that we should elect Walker president so he’ll have time to finish his senior year credits.

But at least he didn’t hug the Dallas Cowboys’ owner.