Our colleague David Fahrenthold traveled to Milwaukee to check out why Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker left college without graduating. The simplest answer is Walker’s own: He got a job — though whether there is more to that story remains unclear.
What is clear is that if Walker ascended to the White House — he’s holding his own in most GOP primary polls — he’d be the first president in more than 60 years without at least a bachelor’s degree. Of America’s 44 presidents, just 11 didn’t graduate from college.
Moreover, only one was from the 20th century. That would be Harry Truman — who withdrew from Spalding’s Commercial College in Missouri. But he was first elected as an incumbent, having taken over the job after Franklin Roosevelt’s death.
The last college dropout to be elected outright was William McKinley, in 1897. He left Allegheny College in Pennsylvania after one year.
H.W. Brands, a presidential historian at the University of Texas, said unless you’re someone like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs (both college dropouts), not having a college degree would be “a serious handicap” in running for president.
“Nowadays a college degree has become the entry credential to nearly all jobs requiring any skill at all. A candidate lacking one would have some heavy explaining to do,” he said.
The other former presidents without a college diploma were George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Grover Cleveland.
Matt Dallek, a professor of political science at George Washington University’s graduate school, said playing the outsider, “I’m just like you” card has become more common in recent politics, but ultimately presidential candidates tend to be “a fairly privileged group of people.”
“Voters want some sense that our leaders are particularly gifted, smart, accomplished, extraordinary but at the same time ordinary,” Dallek said.
Still, Dallek does not believe pointing out Walker’s lack of a college degree would be a winning attack by his opponents.
There’s a fine line in higher-education politics: Don’t look down on voters who didn’t go to college, but maybe don’t take the Rick Santorum tack of calling them snobs if they think people should attend.
Douglas Brinkley, a historian at Rice University, agreed that there is a balance to strike but said Walker can use his lack of a degree as a strength, tapping into the many American voters who did not attend or finish college, who may be attracted to him as a sort of blue-collar hero. Truman was that person for a lot of people, Brinkley said, “the patron saint of the underdog.”
“You have to live by your biography,” he said. “It’s a way to identify with the working class — to mire himself in the Truman tradition.”
In his June 1940 speech to the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill pledged that “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
We were reminded of this famous speech when we heard that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy had taken the fight over climate change to the ski slopes of Aspen, Colo. (McCarthy’s a skier, but we’re told she didn’t ski on this trip.)
McCarthy, just back from a January trip to tony Aspen, penned a commentary with Olympic silver-medal snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler in Powder, the ski industry’s environmental magazine, noting the dire economic effects that climate change — 2014 being the hottest year on record — has on winter sports.
The headline sure seems to channel Churchill: “EPA Administrator Vows to Fight for Skiers in Climate Change Battle.”
“Winter tourism generates $12.2 billion annually, supports 212,000 jobs and $7 billion in salaries” the article notes, and “with a lack of consistent snow, tourist-dependent economies are at risk.” (Of course, New England has had consistent snow recently.)
Getting on the right side of the industry is probably a good thing in swing states such as Colorado (nine electoral votes) and Nevada (five electoral votes.)
A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Thursday to lift the Cuba trade embargo — which is great timing for this week’s Loop Congressional Research Service Report pick.
President Obama began the process of normalizing relations with Cuba, but he can’t go it alone. To completely open Cuba to U.S. business and vice versa would require congressional action. The president, by law, could eliminate the embargo only if he confirms that a democratically elected government or a transition government is in power in Cuba, according to a CRS report.
There are trade restrictions that could be waived or lifted — for instance, a prohibition on ships entering U.S. ports carrying goods or passengers benefiting Cuba — but the treasury secretary has discretion to issue licenses on a limited case-by-case basis. But to fully end the embargo would take an act of Congress.
That’s what Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) want to do.
Their bill would roll back the section of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which established “a total embargo upon all trade between the United States and Cuba,” and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, which strengthened and codified the trade embargo. It does not, however, address foreign aid to Cuba, which is also currently prohibited.
“It’s time to the turn the page on our Cuba policy,” Klobuchar said. “Fifty years of the embargo have not secured our interests in Cuba and have disadvantaged American businesses by restricting commerce with a market of 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores.”
In October, when President Obama tapped Ron Klain to coordinate the U.S. response to Ebola, many observers — you know who you are — were outraged the White House had picked a lawyer and former chief of staff to Vice President Biden for the job rather than a doctor or a nationally known figure.
“There was more than a little skepticism from some corners at the selection of Ron to fulfill this function,” Obama said in a statement Thursday, which was Klain’s last day.
As this paper recently reported, Klain has gotten high marks from public health experts and others for his oversight of the complex effort to battle the disease. Only two people died of the disease in the United States, and both had contracted Ebola overseas.
So Klain could be considered the most effective czar since the end of the Romanov era in Russia.
Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz