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Man in the Muddle
Newt’s cookie choice and other secrets of a Washington intern.
By Kevin Lee

Like muggy afternoons and Midwestern tourists, interns are one of the perennial features of summer in Washington. In governmental institutions throughout our nation’s capital, from the hallowed Senate chambers down to the humblest non-profit group, offices are packed with fresh-faced volunteers, eager to observe at first hand the cogs in our democratic machine at work, as well as receive a precious stripe of experience on their resumes. This past summer, I joined the herd.
    I was working for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a think tank where I was assigned as a research intern in Asian Studies. The department consisted of Dr. Arthur Waldron, Penn’s Lauder Professor of International Relations, and James Lilley, a distinguished Asia expert and former ambassador to China, Korea and Taiwan. As an all-purpose intern, my duties would range from the mundane to the fascinating. Many days I would head down to the Library of Congress to scour newspaper archives for events such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, to assist James Lilly, who was U.S. ambassador at the time, with his memoirs; other days I would get to do something out of the ordinary, like taking care of visas for Professor Waldron and his family, who were planning a trip to China.
    Work also provided many rare educational opportunities for me. After the historic summit between North and South Korea concluded in June, for example, I sat in at a policy meeting where a State Department official discussed the summit and asked for recommendations on American action. Another day, I accompanied an AEI scholar who testified at a House hearing on the jurisdiction over Americans by the International Court of Justice. One evening I even attended a reception at the Singaporean Embassy to celebrate their national day, and mingled among diplomatic officials and professional socialites who specialized in the embassy circuit.
    Never having worked in Washington before, I was unprepared for the professional culture that characterized the think tank, where they would actually serve New York strip steaks for lunch in the cafeteria. (Interns got free meals in lieu of pay; it wasn’t such a bad bargain.)
    AEI is famous for its distinguished, and conservative, political residents, and I got to meet many of them, sort of. One morning, while looking for a plastic knife in the office kitchen, I managed to piss off one-time Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork when I blocked him off from the coffee machine. On another occasion when I was working as a greeter for a lunch conference, Jeane Kirkpatrick, U.S. representative to the United Nations under Ronald Reagan, actually glared at me when I smiled and said hello to her. Then there was the time I stood next to former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich in the lunch line. It didn’t exactly have the appeal of a Congressional debate, but I did get to see the architect of the Republican Revolution in action when he made the difficult decision over whether to choose a chocolate-chip or oatmeal-raisin cookie. Newt, a true conservative, picked oatmeal.
    As someone who isn’t conservative himself, I was a bit apprehensive at first about spending the summer in such an environment. Nightmares ran in my head of working every day alongside a circle of College Republicans, who would speak yearningly and wistfully of the Reagan era, and hold book club meetings to discuss God and Man at Yale. However, when I did meet my fellow interns, I encountered a surprisingly wide variety of political views. Besides a healthy mix of conservatives, libertarians and liberals, the largest group consisted of people much like me. That is, neither Democrat nor Republican, but somewhere in the muddled moderate middle—the perfect political orientation for a future bureaucrat, you could say.
    And then there was the role of politics in Washington in general. In this city, I discovered, everyone in some way or another is an expert on politics—a topic discussed with the frequency and passion approaching that of sports and weather elsewhere. Some of the most memorable foreign-policy discussions I ever had were with cabdrivers, who would discuss issues ranging from Palestinian statehood to the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict.
v As this was an election year and convention season, the air of excitement in the city was even greater. This was especially true of AEI, whose denizens were thrilled by the possibility that both a former scholar, Dick Cheney, and a current scholar, Lynne Cheney, might occupy the White House. The Republican convention ended up being the most memorable for me, by virtue of the fact that practically no one showed up for work that week, save for the interns. (We had to eat.)
    The effect the summer had on me can be best explained by an occurrence following my last day of work. Waiting at the Metro station, I suddenly had an epiphany. As I got ready to board the subway, I caught a brief glimpse of my own reflection in a window. And there I was, decked out in a suit, policy papers in tow, and a New York strip steak in my belly. It took a few seconds before the frightening realization of it all hit me: My God, I thought, I have joined the Establishment.

Kevin Lee is a senior from Raleigh, North Carolina, majoring in international relations. He has not eaten steak since August 23, his last day at work.


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