Internship: Observations from Capitol Hill
by Alex Will '08
Attend briefings lead by people whose sole job it is to convince you of something you know nothing about, prepare statements and questions for the Congressman/woman you work for, respond to mail about the "Polar Bear Protection Act" from constituents in your district, and spend extremely long hours for little pay making sure that your Representative does exactly as planned.
And that isn't even the job description of a Congressional Intern. (That looks something like: Sort the mail, answer the phones, and give tours of the Capitol building.) After hearing the job description, one may ask how someone would spend four years preparing for this. Usually a statement like that is followed up with some profound rebuttal, but the truth of the matter is, that is really what the job of a Congressional Staffer entails.
The real enjoyment comes from being a small part of the political process in the most powerful nation in the world; knowing that the slightest error on your part could be the lynch-pin in losing re-election. While this seems important enough there is a certain feeling of extreme entitlement after struggling for four years to understand something like "Political Theory." On first examination, the hours spent in the classroom don't seem to bear much relevance on the political system of today; at least that was my first impression. No one ever wants to know when the Law of the Sea was ratified, what Rousseau had to say or even who the 22nd President was (Grover Cleveland, incase you didn't know).
After spending way too much time completely re-evaluating my education, I realized I was looking at this from the wrong perspective. I wanted to compare "The Classroom Lessons" to "The Real World", as if they were two different blueprints for the same building. When looking at it from this angle, my only conclusion was that I am spending four years studying an impractical blueprint, while "The Real World" blueprint makes so much more sense. But the more I thought about the situation, the more I realized that all my preconceptions about the United States government and the rule of law were being built through my classroom experiences. Instead of being bitter over learning about the intricacies of the judiciary as opposed to speech writing, I began to learn that I could never even write a speech unless I had prior knowledge on an issue or experience writing scholarly papers.
The classroom did more than give me facts about the political process; it gave me a desire to learn, pushed me to discover things I knew nothing about, and forced me to form opinions on issues I was rather apathetic about. Working with interns who were not as far along in their college careers as I was gave even more proof that the education I have received has put me in a place that I wasn't four years ago.
So is there anything that the classroom can't teach you? Sure, but who can really teach you how to navigate the Capitol tunnels with nine restless children, and six parents who are angry about wasteful government spending because "The Crypt" wasn't actually used to bury someone.
More to come from Capitol Hill...