A quick Google search will turn up quite a few 2008-vintage comparisons of Hillary Clinton and Tracy Flick, the hyperambitious student politician in the novel and film Election -- but if this Washington Post story is correct, the young Scott Walker was the real Tracy Flick, with a healthy dose of Alex P. Keaton thrown in for good measure:
Walker clearly liked college politics more than college itself. He had managed to line up 47 campaign endorsements [in his campaign for student body president at Marquette University], including ones from the ski team and the varsity chorus, but he had trouble showing up on time for French.
... Walker was known for ... his political ambitions. If you met him, they were as plain as the photo of him with Ronald Reagan on his dorm-room desk.
“He would comment that, you know, ‘I’m going to be president of the United States someday,’” said Patrick Tepe, a former dorm mate who is now a dentist.
As a freshman, Walker was elected to the student senate. He plunged into the job, leading a hard-charging impeachment inquiry into charges of misspent money.
... in 1988, as a sophomore, Walker ran for student-government president against a well-known liberal student, John Quigley. Walker distributed a 20-point resume, and talked up his good deeds from back in high school.
“God’s honest truth,” said Quigley, remembering the epic un-hipness of their debates. “I remember him talking about being an Eagle Scout.”
In the campaign, Walker seemed to have every angle covered. There were buttons that said “Beam Me Up, Scotty!” There were slogans sprayed on campus snowbanks, with water and food coloring. The campaign even arranged a special deal at Lucci’s Pizza: Walker voters got extra cheese free.
At times, Walker’s opponents accused his campaign of going too far.
The most notable allegation was that Walker’s people had stolen copies of the campus newspaper, to keep students from reading its endorsement of the other guy. Walker’s friends say to this day that they didn’t do it....
Maybe taking campus elections very, very seriously is normal outside the cynical Northeast, where I went to college. And maybe my perspective is skewed because I attended college in the extremely disillusioned 1970s. But to me this guy seemed really driven -- which is fine except that it's an article of faith among right-wingers that a "career politician" is the worst sort of person, as is someone who's wanted to be president all his life (hello, Al Gore).
We learn all this in a story that tries to explain why Walker never got his bachelor's degree. We're told that, contrary to rumor, he wasn't asked to leave because of a campaign-related cheating scandal. He just dropped out, took a job, got married, and immediately started running for more offices, this time in the real world.
If Walker's presidential campaign takes off, I think it will be a huge mistake for Democrats and liberal-leaning pundits to criticize him for his lack of a sheepskin. Americans have a love-hate relationship with education: sometimes we elect the candidate who's at ease with book l'arnin', but just as often we prefer a George W. Bush (who had the degrees but not the intellectual curiosity) or a Ronald Reagan. And because we're a country that prefers the football hero to the head of the math club, we very much lean toward the latter sort of politician. Even Bill Clinton felt the need to commission the campaign film "The Man from Hope" to emphasize his modest roots because, as has been noted, "Focus groups had shown that many voters perceived Clinton as an elitist."
So please, Dems, don't go after Walker the way Howard Dean did on Morning Joe today:
HOWARD DEAN: This [his declining to answer question on evolution] is a particular problem for Scott Walker which has not been an issue yet but it will. Scott Walker, were he to become president, would be the first president in many generations that did not have a college degree. He's never finished. The issue here is not just an issue of dancing around the question of evolution for political reasons, the issue is how well educated is this guy? And that's a problem.
... JOE SCARBOROUGH: Are you serious? You're saying he might not be qualified because he didn't finish college?
DEAN: I think there are going to be a lot of people who worry about that.
SCARBOROUGH: Do you worry about people that don't finish college?
DEAN: I worry about people being President of the United States not knowing much about the world and not knowing much about science. I worry about that.
... SCARBOROUGH: Well, nobody is accusing Scott Walker of being dumb because he didn't graduate from college except you.
DEAN: I didn't say dumb, I said unknowledgeable.
Do that and you're going to endear Walker to a lot of Americans -- no, not just Republicans and Republican-leaners -- who in high school preferred the football hero to the head of the math club (what real American doesn't?), and who might just be ready for a non-cerebral, non-Obama-esque, straight-talkin' president as their memories of the George W. Bush years fade. Portray him as an ambitious pol from his early years, but don't try to use "unknowledgeable" as a slur. Not in America.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog