Barnes’ Gets Third Degree Over His Degree

What do Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Winston Churchill, Brad Pitt, Ellen DeGeneres and George Clooney all have in common?

None of them completed a four year college degree. And, ya know what, they turned out alright anyway.

I mention this now because Mandela Barnes has finally jumped into the crowded race for the Democratic nomination to take on Sen. Ron Johnson, should he run again. Let’s stop here and reflect for a moment on my use of the word “finally.” It’s still over a year before the primary and yet a half-dozen candidates have been working overtime for months. Maybe the one thing I agree with Johnson about is that campaigns are ridiculously long.

Mandela Barnes picked up his college diploma just recently. Why was that so important?

I also think that, while robust primaries are usually a good thing, it’s getting too crowded in the Dem primary for Senate while it’s not crowded enough in the race for the gubernatorial nomination.

But those are just asides. The main thing I wanted to write about today is getting your ticket punched. When Barnes announced yesterday the Republicans wasted no time in blasting him for “lying about when he received his college degree.” They’re trying to make something out of nothing here. Barnes didn’t complete his course work in one class, so that he was just short of officially getting his college degree. Yet, his resume said that he did.

Barnes chalks it up to an administration oversight, but even if it wasn’t I don’t care a heck of a lot. It wouldn’t be the first time somebody padded a resume and you have to appreciate the richness of the Republican attack. Barnes wants to run against Johnson, who has knowingly spread lies and misinformation about who won the presidential election, voter fraud, climate change and the COVID pandemic. Even if Barnes knowingly gave himself credit for a course he didn’t complete, how does that stack up to undermining the very foundation of our democracy, denying the existence of an existential threat to the planet and spreading false information that could damage public health on a massive scale?

But here’s an even more fundamental point. If Barnes felt the pressure to say he got a degree when he hadn’t, what does that say about our society? Because, of course, it made zero difference. If the guy completed four years of course work and just didn’t dot the i’s on one final class, what possible difference could that make in terms of his ability to be a U.S. Senator or to do any other job, for that matter?

One of the not-so-charming things about our town is an educational elitism, which I suppose is not uncommon to college towns and major metros. You even see it in publications like The New York Times, which commonly uses the word “educated” to describe those with four year college degrees and above, as if those who didn’t finish college were completely “uneducated.”

Another concept you’ll find running rampant in the Times and other liberal leaning media outlets is discussion of “white privilege.” In fact, the real privileges bestowed by our society go to those who have had their ticket stamped by a college or university, regardless of their skin color. The average wage advantage for college graduates over those who didn’t complete college went from 30% forty years ago to 56% today. And it went from 57% in 1980 to 127% today for those who get an advanced degree. Are they really that much more productive or do we just live in a society that values certification over actual accomplishment?

There are certain assumptions made about someone who has that paper that may or may not be true. Can they really think critically? Can they write? Have they and will they continue to read widely? Will they listen carefully to arguments before making up their minds? Will they be open to changing their minds in the light of better arguments and new information?

None of those skills is exclusive to people with college degrees.

One of the things that’s badly hurting the Democrats these days is the wing of the party that displays open hostility to blue collar voters. The view in that corner of the party is that these poor uneducated masses just don’t understand that their own self interest lies in the policy prescriptions favored by college-educated readers of The New York Times.

Barnes does not appear to suffer from that affliction. In his announcement video he said, “There are no idle hands here, no load we haven’t carried. No one waiting for a handout or free pass. But hard work isn’t paying off like it used to. The system isn’t working. We see so many people who are working longer hours and harder, often times for much less.”

Seems to me that that strikes the right tone and to a great degree.

Welcome to the 155th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

4 thoughts on “Barnes’ Gets Third Degree Over His Degree

  1. I’m finding the hostility to the concept of white privilege to be curious on this blog. I guess it’s a way to position into the center? My issue is that one has to really work around a lot of facts to take that angle. For instance, this article says that since college degree holders earn so much more than those without, that’s more of a privilege than white privilege.

    The problem with that angle is that the wage gap between black and white persists when controlling for education. I could cite sources but I don’t know if I can insert links – regardless it’s easy to find these studies.

    Are white people somehow better and more deserving people, or is there a societal privilege structure that makes otherwise similar people earn less? What is the reason for this gap?

    Regardless of the white privilege aside in the post, I definitely agree that college degrees are over emphasized. College entry and success has so much to do with factors besides pure intelligence and talent, and most of the wisest people I trust do not have degrees.

    I personally believe that people in laboring class jobs are not worth less than those in middle or high class jobs. We saw this with essential workers during the pandemic.

    While I doubt I could convince moderates to embrace the full extent of my perspective and policy changes that I’d advocate on this topic, I hope that perhaps moderates could agree that income inequality is an issue in our society that should be addressed to some degree through policy. That goes to closing the wage gap between college educated workers and not.

    I would like it if people generally didn’t go to college just so they can “get a good job”, but instead went to college because they are actually interested in it. In other words, I’d like it if all people who didn’t want to go to college would still have reasonable opportunity to “get a good job” too.


    1. It’s not that I don’t think that some of us (including me) have had some advantages based on race. But, as a political concept, I think it’s just disastrous. If you have a high school education and live in rural America the idea of having privileges based on your race is both odd and alienating. You’re not feeling very privileged as wealth and power move to cities and, if you live in an all-white community, you’re not sure who you’re privileged in relationship to.


      1. You think it’s alienating to for a rural white person to hear words, imagine how alienating it is to be a person of color wondering why it’s so hard to just find a doctor who won’t treat you like trash.

        There’s the truth, but that’s different than acceptable political discourse… I guess I’m naïve to think that people should be just told the truth?


      2. I think there are a lot of words in the English language and that you can accomplish talking about the truth and being politically astute at the same time.


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