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in the Muddle
cookie choice and other secrets of a Washington intern.
By Kevin Lee
muggy afternoons and Midwestern tourists, interns are one of
the perennial features of summer in Washington. In governmental institutions
throughout our nations 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.
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, Penns 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.
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.
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 wasnt such a bad bargain.)
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 didnt 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,
someone who isnt 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 middlethe perfect
political orientation for a future bureaucrat, you could say.
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 politicsa
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.)
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.
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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