Thursday, August 2, 2007

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DC in the summertime

The quote of the day goes to the official Blog Brother, sightseeing in Washington, DC. His description of the city during the summer:

Lots of young people walking around believing that they are very important.
He's referring, of course, to the interns. Which is as good an excuse as any to link to this six-year old Slate essay by David Plotz defending interns. Plotz's key point:
In fact, interns deserve neither derision nor fear. They are a wonderfully useful segment of Washington. They are a "backbone" of the city, argues Mary Ryan of the intern-placing Institute for Experiential Learning. For better or worse, they often serve as cheap clerical labor, replacing secretaries at a fraction the cost. They can also make more substantive contributions. They often do hard, nasty work, such as the unpleasant background research for nonprofits or the dirt-digging on a campaign opponent. Interns, in short, are not pointless.

(Nor are internships pointless: If you perform, you'll win a real Washington job. Washington is run by ex-interns. Today's 20-year-old mail-room smartass becomes a 22-year-old legislative assistant, and then a 25-year-old press secretary, and then a 29-year-old lobbyist. According to Ryan, 20 percent-30 percent of the interns she places in D.C. return to jobs where they interned.)

Washington's interns are valuable more for psychological reasons than economic ones. Though Hill rats would never admit it, interns decynicize D.C.; Washington thrills them (at least for the six weeks till their disillusionment). They may be calculating and ambitious, but they remind their beaten-down editor, their dispirited chief of staff, their venal executive director of why what they do is important and interesting and exciting. Their idealism is fuel for the city.

The libertarian in me is a little afraid of what happens when you combine idealism with government power. That said, the ex-research intern in me nods in sympathy.

posted by Dan on 08.02.07 at 07:29 PM


They often do hard, nasty work,

Let's get immigrants to do it.

such as the unpleasant background research for nonprofits or the dirt-digging on a campaign opponent

Oh, he meant 'work'.

As someone who spent his university summers and indeed term-time doing a job that 'Americans won't do' -- back of the house in the University faculty restaurant, I believe that it would be a very good thing for the country if these 20 year olds were out clearing trails, picking apples, or indeed, spending 12 hours on a Saturday prepping, cooking , and washing pots. In fact, the Plotz point is wrong, these kids haven't put in the time in 'Real America', so their policy views on real issues (immigration, trade) become warped by the Washington bubble. They don't de-cynicize Washington, Washington cynicizes them.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 08.02.07 at 07:29 PM [permalink]

Rat own, Mitchell, rat own. And they all jog on the mall, too, along with the other super-serious youngsters in DC--FBI, Secret Service, military, and whatnot. Old fogies like me are in constant danger of being trampled by gangs of serious-minded, hard-bodied interns and trainees out to show the world just how deadly earnest they truly are.


posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 08.02.07 at 07:29 PM [permalink]

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