For a congressman locked in a tight race for re-election, Republican Joe Walsh went surprisingly easy on his Democratic opponent and President Barack Obama during a meeting with students at Elmhurst College on October 16. But he had plenty of scorn for his fellow members of Congress and other elected officials.
“I can’t stand most politicians. Every single word they say has to be perfectly poll-tested because they don’t want to offend someone. So we get a bunch of robots that never really tell you what they feel,” Walsh declared to an audience of about 60 students and a few community members in the Blume Board Room. “We’ve trained them like seals. They only care about being re-elected. We’ve taught our politicians to think that if we give people things, we’ll get re-elected.”
Walsh set an informal tone early on, not only through his attire—a dress shirt unbuttoned at the collar, a sport coat and khaki pants—but also by crawling under one of the tables that ring the room so that he could speak from the center. Pacing, cajoling and frequently shouting, he fielded questions for nearly an hour.
In 2010, Walsh was elected to Illinois’s 8th Congressional District with little support from the Republican Party but substantial backing from Tea Party activists. The 8th District, whose boundaries were redrawn last year as part of the statewide redistricting process, includes portions of Elmhurst.
During his meeting with students, Walsh spoke broadly and bluntly, but not about his opponent, Tammy Duckworth.
“This country is flat broke,” he said, adding that the upcoming election “is the most important in the history of the country” because it will determine national policy at a time when the United States is teetering on the edge of a fiscal crisis brought on by the mounting federal debt.
Addressing the stalemate between Republicans and Democrats that has paralyzed Congress for the last few years, he acknowledged that while it has frustrated voters and elected officials alike, it is a necessary fight that ultimately will lead to solutions.
“I believe the country is going through a revolution. We’re having a great debate, a huge argument over what this country is all about,” he said.
“I’m darned glad we’re having this fight because we’ve been asleep for years. We don’t really pay attention to elections. It’s taken us a long time to get to the point where if we don’t get our act together now, you are going to pay our bills,” he said, pointing at students.
“It’s taken us a long time to get into this mess. Barack Obama didn’t start this. This has been going on for 60, 70, 80, 90 years. It’s going to take a while to figure out how to get out of it. Can we get out of it? I’ll be honest with you—I don’t know,” Walsh said.
Walsh, who turned down his Congressional health care benefits and pension and who says he sleeps in his office while in Washington, advocates term limits for elected officials.
His voice rising to a shout, he said, “We’re so sick of Republicans and Democrats who go to Washington: They stay there forever, everyone treats them like kings and queens, and for some reason—it doesn’t matter what party they are—they always seem to come out of office a lot richer than they were when they went in.”
Walsh was challenged by a few students who asked why, during a recent town hall meeting with constituents, he cited radical Muslim Americans as a major security threat when other radical groups, such as neo-Nazis, also pose threats.
“We are at war with a radical strain of Islam” that we know is “trying to kill Americans here,” said Walsh, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee. “Your government needs to go after them and protect all Americans,” he said, and we can’t let “political correctness” prevent that.
“It’s a matter of degree, and right now all other potential threats pale in comparison to the abundant threat that is radical Islam here and abroad. The greatest home-grown terrorist threat is Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups coming here, brainwashing Muslim Americans—primarily young Muslim-American men—to do evil things.”
Walsh also had harsh comments for Americans in general for not staying informed on such critical issues as the federal debt, and for allowing matters to reach the crisis stage.
“As a country, we’ve grown stupid. We’re not as informed as we used to be,” he said. “We’re not as engaged or involved as we used to be, and as a country we’re not as smart about politics and policy as we used to be.
“Please, please get smart,” he urged students in his closing remarks, encouraging them to seek information from multiple sources. “You better pay attention to all sides and don’t just talk to people who agree with you.
“If we don’t make the right decisions, I fear for the kind of country you’re going to inherit.”
Walsh’s visit was part of a full roster of election-related activities for Elmhurst students, which have included viewing parties and discussions during the presidential debates, political lectures and voter registration drives. On Tuesday, October 23, Tammy Duckworth, Democratic candidate for the 8th Congressional District, is scheduled to speak with students.