Congressman Peter Roskam, Representative of Illinois’ 6th district, spoke to two Knox classes last Friday. He emphasized the importance of political engagement in college-aged citizens.
Roskam was joined by 74th district Representative to the Illinois House of Representatives Don Moffitt and members of his family. The Congressman travelled to Galesburg from his home in Wheaton, Illinois with his wife and three of his four children. Roskam was also accompanied by his father Verlyn “Swede” Roskam, Knox class of 1951 and his mother Martha, Knox class of 1952.
Swede and Martha Roskam were recently profiled in the Knox magazine. The couple undertook and completed the arduous task of tracking down and returning 31 dog tags found and purchased at a market in Vietnam to their rightful owners. The couple met when Swede threw a snowball at Martha on a brisk winter term evening.
In his address to Professor Andrew Civettini’s American Government class, Roskam explained the similarities between Washington D.C. and Knox College.
“There are so many members of Congress, you’re closer to some people,” said Roskam, comparing the atmosphere to that of Knox’s own campus. “You know some people, some really well; your roommates, friends from back home. The House of Representatives is the exact same way.”
He retained this theme throughout his address to the class, later referring to the Ways and Means Committee as a “kind of secret fraternity” and campaign preparation as “looming final exams.”
Roskam warned students against political apathy. He said that as the current college generation is growing and changing, so too is the world.
“There’s a great temptation to be cynical,” said Roskam. He spoke of the eagerness demonstrated by children when presented with the opportunity to participate in the political process.
“There is an expectation and the system is most robust when people participate,” he said.
Roskam cited the unique ways college-aged students could influence participation.
“You have this ability, through Facebook and Twitter and other social media to do things that
people like me are hiring folks like you to do,” he told the class.
He urged students not to “give up their birth right.”
“All in all, it was an interesting experience and I’m glad I went,” said Junior Abraham Diekhans-Mears of Roskam’s appearance. “This seemed to be more of an inspirational message to those Knox students who might aspire to be political figures. I would rather have had a discussion about politics with him than have him try to sell me on being a Representative.”
Roskam did address students interested in pursuing a political career, commenting that future politicians are not necessarily individuals who “talk about politics at the dinner table.”
“All you need is common sense and a desire to make a difference,” he said.
“It was a fairly standard speech to a Government 100 class,” said senior Trevor Sorenson. “I don’t think he felt that he could go more in depth about the Ways and Means Committee without going over everybody’s head or him being found totally boring. He knew his audience and was able to respond appropriately with just enough humor.”
Sorenson asked Roskam how the political climate in Washington D.C. would change if the House of Representatives should become a Republican majority.
“A Republican majority may be the best thing to happen to Barack Obama,” said Roskam. “It could put a lot more centrist things on his desk and force both parties to negotiate.”
“I wasn’t satisfied with his rationale for voting against the debt ceiling,” said Sorenson, “because if the debt ceiling is reached, it will cause the government to effectively shut down.”
“Attitude about saving is going to change,” said Roskam, noting that increased government spending will likely drive citizens’ personal responsibility up at an earlier age. College-aged students, he said, might be more likely to put money away for the future.
The Congressman also spoke to Professor Sue Hulett’s Religion and Politics class.
Roskam said that people of faith in the United States are often looked upon as people with an agenda, but post 9/11, the landscape is different.
“We all agree […] to be in the mix,” he said.
According to Roskam, faith and politics are strongly linked.
“Religious faith animates public votes,” said Roskam. “Our founders believed that people are children of God.”
Freshman Lily Bailey asked Roskam whether or not his views on gay marriage would change if a biological explanation for homosexuality was discovered.
The Congressman replied that such a finding would “change the debate entirely.”
“I waited for him to expand on his response, and he just kind of stood there,” said Bailey. “I noticed with all the other questions directed toward him, especially on the topics of gay rights and abortion, he danced around the question, rephrasing it, and didn’t give many substantial or satisfying answers.”
When questioned about his views on abortion, Roskam paralleled his moral opposition to the opposition his predecessors had to slavery.
Roskam praised the “ascendant attitude” of Knox students. He said that Knox students asked engaging questions and offered a valuable perspective.