Seven Flinders University students are heading for Washington DC to take up nine-week internships on Capitol Hill at a “make or break” time for President Barack Obama.
The students – from law, American and international studies – continue a 10-year tradition of Flinders students working in the offices of members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives and alongside senior US officials as part of the Washington Internship program.
Head of the Department of American Studies at Flinders, Professor Don DeBats said the interns are likely to witness at firsthand a transformation in President Obama’s style.
“Facing a new Congress, Republican control of the House of Representatives and all of its committees as well as a reduced Senate majority, President Obama has already had to change tack and to be much more conciliatory to the Republicans,” Professor DeBats said.
“In addition, US unemployment rates remain high at 9.8 per cent, underemployment is probably twice that and the US housing market is severely depressed,” he said.
“And this week, a Federal District Court ruled that part of the Obama healthcare legislation requiring the purchase of heath care insurance is unconstitutional, potentially tying up the law in the courts for a long time.”
“Obama could be vulnerable from the left of his Democratic Party which believes he’s given in to Republican blackmail over tax cuts and is far from convinced by the President’s strategy in Afghanistan.”
“Two years ago, you just could never have imagined such a thing happening. But it is a measure of the continuing severity of the US recession: a reality that is very difficult to appreciate from the general prosperity of Australia.”
Professor DeBats believes the scenario could lead to President Obama joining a surprisingly long list of past Presidents who faced challenges to their renomination after their first term.
“Four of the last eight US presidents have faced serious primary challenges: Presidents Johnson, Ford, Carter and GHW Bush. None were defeated in that primary process – but none of them won their second term,” he said.
“Over coming months, we’re going to learn a whole lot more about President Obama than we’ve ever learned before. Just who he is, is going to be revealed. And it is possible that from that a much more effective president Obama will emerge.
“It is a fascinating time and the Flinders interns are going to be part of it.”
The tasks undertaken by the interns range from dealing with constituents and conducting tours of the Capitol to attending Congressional committee hearings, writing reports and drafting briefs.
This year, interns will be attached to the offices of Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat Representatives Mike Ross, Raul Grijalva and Tim Ryan and Republican Representative Lynn Westmoreland.
(Front row, left to right): William Evans, Josephine Wilkins, Joseph Hill; (back row, left to right) Drew Evers, Andrew Grzybowski, Henry Sutherland, Tom Schinckel.