Students Elect Nation's First Student Shadow President
Washington, DC -- (ReleaseWire) -- 09/22/2010 -- At the 2008 Pi Gamma Mu triennial international convention held in Atlanta, Ga., Eric Knutson was elected by students from colleges and universities across the United States to be the honor society’s “shadow president.” Pi Gamma Mu believes that students and government benefit when students are more involved in democracy. Eric, as shadow president, was given the responsibility to evaluate the new president’s activities and give him policy advice. Originally from Schuyler, Neb., Eric graduated with a B.S. in History, summa cum laude, from Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb., in May, 2009. He is currently in his second year at the University of Nebraska College of Law. This past summer, he clerked for the office of the Nebraska Attorney General in the Criminal Appeals Department.
We interviewed Eric to find out what his thoughts about President Barack Obama’s leadership are almost two years into the president’s term of office.
Question: Congratulations on being elected the first student shadow president by student members in Pi Gamma Mu international honor society, Eric. Students elected you at our international convention in Atlanta, to keep up with the new president and to critique him and even give him advice. What grade would you give President Obama and why?
Eric Knutson: Overall, I would give President Obama a grade of a B. He's done a pretty good job, considering the hand he was dealt. Had he been inaugurated in a time of economic boom and peaceful bliss, perhaps I would grade him less charitably.
He has achieved some legislative victories which in time will be seen as major landmarks. The stimulus package, combined with the recent Wall Street Reform Bill, shows that he's trying to turn the economy around. Numbers and statistics are showing signs of improvement, albeit tiny ones, but this may be the natural process. I believe this Wall Street financial overhaul will give him some bonus points with Americans, most of whom are tired of seeing Wall Street scandals and a lack of regulation. Both bills took a lot of organization to put through.
The Health Care bill is also certainly controversial. However, I anticipate that it will ultimately be seen as landmark legislation. Again, something had to be done to control the skyrocketing cost of health care and the inaccessibility of health care for too many Americans and my opinion is this was a step in the right direction. A bill that allows everyone in the United States to be covered is a good thing. So many Presidents have tried to get universal health care reform – FDR, Truman, Carter and Clinton. President Obama will go down in history for this accomplishment.
We are now on our way to being troop free in Iraq, although we are not leaving the country altogether. We are also making some changes in Afghanistan. These wars are a nearly no-win for President Obama in my opinion, considering the public attitude towards them, their length and complexity, and their cost. However, getting out of Iraq is a big fulfillment of a pre-election promise.
Question: What do you see as President Obama’s greatest challenge?
Eric Knutson: The economy is the biggest issue at the moment. Many people have criticized him for his appointees as Cabinet members and agency heads, many of whom lack "real business world" experience. However, there's no hiding the fact the economy was in a free fall when he took office. Remember, he defeated McCain in the 2008 election because a majority of Americans thought he was better suited to deal with the foundering economy. While it is far from repaired, the economy has seemed to stabilize a bit. He could be doing better in that department, but he could be doing worse, as well.
He gets docked because of other issues with which he has yet to deal. He has given rosy speeches about the environment and green energy, the immigration problem, and other issues, but he's done little practical work in those areas. Clearly he has a lot on his plate already, so this may be understandable. He’s also disappointed a lot of teachers with his No Child Left Behind additions rather than reforms. Then, there is the national debt, which is skyrocketing, a problem which needs to be addressed someday.
People seem to blame large problems such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the Ground Zero mosque controversy on the president. Foreign policy has not been bad for him, but there have not been any great landmarks or treaties either. People's opinions sway with recent events. As one professor told me, "a well timed economy upturn and some cheery policy news will turn his numbers around a bit.”
Sinking poll ratings happens to nearly every President. President Obama came in with such hope and promise that he had nearly nowhere to go but down. It's tough to find a President who had a high approval rating when he left office because the president simply cannot accomplish what many thought he would. Some of this could just be America's distaste for anything coming out of Washington, D.C. right now (see Congress’s ratings).
Question: How will President Obama’s party do in the November, 2010 election?
The Democrats look like they will lose the U. S. House. The fact is many incumbents are in peril right now because of that disdain for D. C. and the status quo; there are more incumbent Democrats than Republicans to blame and vote against. Without an exciting candidate with coattails at the top of the ballot, Democrats will not turn out like they did in 2008. Many people will vote against Democrats for not "getting enough done," while they held power. Again, many believed if we handed the Democrats the Senate, House, and White House, all of America's problems would get solved overnight. This was an unrealistic expectation.
Also, it is almost an inescapable fate for the president's party to lose seats during Midterm elections. The Senate seems to be safe for the Democrats…safe in terms of a bare majority, but there goes the filibuster proof Senate. With Congress split, it is virtually certain to act more slowly than the slow pace with which the public is already exasperated.
Question: Very importantly Pi Gamma Mu students elected you to be the nation’s first student shadow president to give President Obama advice. What is your advice for the president?
Eric Knutson: First, I think that he could utilize his oratorical skills better and more selectively because I think he gives too many speeches. I'd advise him to deliver fewer public speeches, but when he does deliver a speech make it a great one on an important topic.
Second, much attention has been recently focused on President Obama’s inability to clearly express his intentions. Keeping ideas brief and clear would bolster his image, rather than muddle it. This may mean he may need to sound less like a constitutional- law professor and more like an average American.
Third, keep working on the economy. That is the number 1 issue for Americans. Unemployment has to decrease, or Republicans will use this to make Obama a sitting duck in 2012.
And in the end, I would tell him to continue analyzing the issues and listen to member of Congress on both sides of the aisle. In an America, where politics is as nasty as ever, don't be dragged into the mud but rather try to be the mediator. He may not win points with either party, but looking back, he may be applauded for it.
Thanks Eric for an excellent analysis. We wish you well in your law studies at the University of Nebraska and congratulations for graduating from Wayne State College with honors.
We hope you will get the chance to talk directly with President Obama and we know he will appreciate the policy advice coming directly from a student.
Pi Gamma Mu members will be coming to Washington D. C. to display research posters and present research papers concerning policy issues at the Pi Gamma Mu triennial international convention in October of 2011. Students hope to help create a better America. We encourage students wanting to display posters, to present research papers or form chapters of Pi Gamma Mu international honor society to get in touch with Dr. Gordon Mercer, international Pi Gamma Mu president, by phoning 828-227-3863 at Western Carolina University or calling Sue Watters, Pi Gamma Mu’s executive director at 620-221-3128 in Winfield, Kans.
Please visit our Pi Gamma Mu home page at http://www.pigammamu.org/ . We welcome your ideas on students’ plans to provide solutions to America’s problems. Our next student “shadow president” will be elected at our Pi Gamma Mu triennial international convention in Washington D. C. For any student wanting to be a future U. S. President this is great practice and a chance to speak out to our entire nation as Eric is doing.
Gordon Mercer is international president of Pi Gamma Mu honor society and a professor of political science at Western Carolina University. Marcia Mercer is a writer and columnist. Go to http://9955.hostednr.com to get to our Notes on Quotes Press Room. Views expressed in this column are the views of the authors and do not reflect the views of other organizations.