Brentney, a senior English and creative writing major from Telephone, Texas, is spending the spring (2007)semester in Washington, D.C. Through The Fund for American Studies, Brentney is taking classes and interning in the nation's capital to experience Washington first hand.
Picking up from my last blog, much has changed here in Washington--but that is to be expected. If Las Vegas is the city that never sleeps, Washington is the city that never...well, sleeps either. Believe me, except for congressmen and a few top execs, Washington is ran by entry-level twenty-somethings who walk the sidewalks along Constitution and Independence Ave. for a quick Starbucks fix and then it's back to the grind. Whenever they do take the necessary sleep break, shedding out of their obligatory black or gray suit, you know who they're shacking up with--their blackberry.
But that is, in a way, part of Washington's charm. Why stop and smell the cherry blossoms when you are at the nation's pulse-point? Trust me, chances are, in a few years you'll be in suburban bliss in a nice, comfy cubical in the private sector.
Hanging out with DJ Rove
At any rate, one of the best experiences I've had here in Washington was attending the 4th Annual Radio-TV Correspondent's Dinner. You may remember seeing "DJ Rove" on CNN? Yeah...
As an intern, I wasn't invited to the diner itself, but I was in black-tie regalia at the Washington Hilton, dining on the delicious pre- and after- party fare...who doesn't love herbed brie and crème brulee?!?--and prepping for the Talk Radio News Service after-party, which included live music from "Beatlemania" (the nation's #1 Beatles impersonators) and freebies such as "John Lennon" shades. We danced to "She Loves You" and "8 Days a Week." We stuffed ourselves to the brim. Karl Rove got a little (more) insane. What a night.
The highlight for me, however, was at 5 pm. Our staffers were so busy with the event I got to do a last minute "call-in." At particular times during the day, staffers call into talk radio stations around the country and give an update on the happenings in Washington. I'll admit, I had to wing it, but it was an excellent experience, discussing Tony Snow, and the TRNC Dinner. Host, Mark Bernier, said, "I'm sure there will be a lot of celebrity spottings there tonight, but one I'm sure you don't expect to see is Alberto Gonzales..."
I said, "I don't, Mr. Bernier. But if I do, I'll be sure and let him know you asked for him."
Searching for an Opportunity
I am reaching the middle of my adventure here in Washington, and am not at all ready for things to end. Considering I had finished my required credit hours in December (super-senior...I'm so embarrassed), I have started researching opportunities in the job market here in DC as well as housing. Don't worry, I wear my cowboy boots every chance I get, but Texas may have to wait quite awhile for my official return. I never loved Dallas quite as much as DC.
I feel like my internship is really stretching me, not only intellectually and professionally, but most importantly, strengthening my character. It is just an internship, but Talk Radio News Service expects performances from their interns that are above and beyond constituent letter writing and front-desk phone calls. I am out in the "game," every day, hoping (and praying, a little bit) that I handle my responsibilities with professionalism and efficiency. You have never felt like a small fish in a big pond unless you've sat three feet from Nancy Pelosi, John McCain or former Surgeon General, Kevin Kiley. There is a simultaneous feeling of incompetence and invisibility that goes along with it. The good news, though: I'm coming out of this with a hell of a lot of experience. And a ton of confidence...eventually.
Tons of Free Candy
Over the last few weeks I attended a hearing over the Walter Reed scandal, an outdoor rally and protest for the reauthorization of SCHIP (Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Hatch's bipartisan baby) and attended CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. One thing about being press-- lots of free stuff. I saw Rudy Giuliani speak, and got a "Peta Killed Me" stuffed puppy, "Hillary Hammer" t-shirt, and Romney "flip-flops." Basically all the propaganda I could muster!! Plus, there was tons of free candy, and I was sure to make a round...or ten...at the exhibition booths for the sugar high. All political views aside (and I'm sure mine are quite obvious), Dems feed you delicious meals. GOP's give out candy bars... Liberals are, of course, the big spenders.
In all seriousness, it was a wonderful experience to see Romney, Brownback and Giuliani speak. However, this closet McCain fan was a little disappointed to see the SMU Medal of Freedom Award Winner AWOL...and yes, I am laughing at my own joke. Anti-war as I am, I'm pulling for John for the nomination. What was "less" than a valuable experience was Ann Coulter's stunt. I was present, covering her...well, whatever it is she does...speech when she used the term "faggot" to describe John Edwards. I knew Coulter was a shock artist, but she really got me with that one. It was offensive. It was uncalled for. It was the antithesis of "classy." And all this from someone who remarked repeatedly that Democratic female pundits look like "Hooters Girls."
Keep Your Fingers Crossed
All-in-all life is moving way too fast and I am enjoying far too much. This weekend, I've decided is "culture only," meaning visits to the Smithsonian's American Indian and Natural History museums, and hopefully either Afghan or Ethiopian food. Literally, folks, about 85% of my enjoyment of DC comes from the fabulous food.
In the weeks to come, keep your fingers crossed that I find summer placement in an internship with Representative Ralph Hall – SMU Law alum, and my very own congressman!
I am enrolled in The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) Capital Semester program, and intern for Talk Radio News Service. Living in a Washington Intern Student Housing (WISH) townhouse right on Capitol Hill, I have been in Washington, D.C. since January 13, 2007. On a daily basis, I attend congressional hearings, press releases, and numerous live events. I would say that my internship is perhaps the toughest of the other 34 students in my program. While it does not sound as prestigious as working with Senator Hillary Clinton (as one of my fellow housemates is) or with the Department of Justice, rather than pouring coffee for Representatives, I have official, Capitol Hill press credentials and work as a reporter for one of the nation's smallest (but foremost) bureaus. Talk Radio News Service provides talk radio stations around the country with fast breaking Washington news from a hands-on perspective.
While the other students in my program were having pizza and wine during President Bush's State of the Union address, I was in the Capitol Building's Senate Press Gallery, and had the opportunity to interview congressmen on their way out of the building (and only had to stay until midnight!). I have surveyed a Supreme Court hearing, and spend most days taking the "secret" subterranean shuttle between the House, Capitol and Senate buildings.
I have seen Madeline Albright and Henry Kissinger testify, Barack Obama, Ted Kennedy and Condoleezza Rice speak, and saw John Kerry zoom by after State of the Union. (he was moving so quickly and smiling so widely, it had a strange, almost musical-esque feel, as if the "Oklahoma" score should be playing in the background. I have never been a Kerry fan, and still am not, but I must admit I was a little star struck).
I have also covered the United for Peace and Justice's March on Washington in January and got sound bites from Jesse Jackson, actress Rhea Perlman, and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). My favorite interview of that day, however, was retired Marine Capitan, John Dowell, who is a Vietnam War veteran who was on his way home to California from contracting in Afghanistan. All of these clips can be found at talkradionews.com.
Coming to you live from Georgetown . . .
As part of my program I am enrolled in 12 semester hours. While I am officially "through" at SMU, the opportunity to travel to Washington and learn at our nation's capitol was worth a few extra credits. We are reading Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Antonin Scalia's A Matter of Interpretation, Abraham Lincoln's selected speeches and F. A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, just to name a few.
I found out about TFAS by an internet search and while the program is certainly academically rigorous (most interns in other programs only take one class instead of three), I often feel as if I am only getting half a political science education. If neo-conservative/libertarian indoctrination floats your boat, the program is wonderful. If you are more liberally inclined, you might check out a different Washington program, as there are many. Also, while one of our classes is held at Georgetown University (only an hour commute...), the professors are not Georgetown faculty. This is not to say I do not feel they are qualified--I particularly respect Professor Ken Masugi--but don't let TFAS's "Georgetown" tags fool you.
Meeting new friends
There are many advantages of applying TFAS, however. The TFAS environment is designed so that students are thrown together and it is very easy (much more so than at SMU if one is not Greek) to make friends. I know all of my fellow TFASers and there is always someone who either wants to, or is willing to go and do.
TFAS also attracts many international students, and for someone who went to a tiny, all-white high school, I really appreciate diversity. In fact, one of my best friends here is Israeli, and I have had the opportunity to sample another one of the student's Lebanese home cooking. I live and work with students from Romania, Azerbaijan and Germany, and have Muslim, Jewish and Catholic friends of many different political and cultural beliefs.
Not a bad next door neighbor . . . .
I live directly on Capitol Hill, while many other programs house their students in Virginia or Maryland. I literally work next door to my swank housing. Score. (all that separates TRNS and my apartment is a Starbucks. Double score.) I also always feel very safe near my apartment as Capitol Hill is served by both Washington D.C. as well as Capitol Hill police.
Washington is a diverse city with perhaps the best food I have ever tasted, most of it authentic. From Ethiopian to Greek and Cuban, dining out is always a wonderful experience. TRNS's studio is directly above Capitol Lounge, a quaint dive bar with political memorabilia along the walls and their own brew. Nice.
Jefferson’s the man
For my birthday weekend, my family flew in from Dallas. I'm afraid I put them through a somewhat rigorous tour of the city, but for someone as enamored with D.C. as I, I wanted them to get the full experience. We took a "Tourmobile" tour of all of the monuments, museums and historic sites from the Smithsonian to the Vietnam War Memorial and Kennedy's grave at Arlington Cemetery. While many of my friends argue that the Lincoln Memorial is the best, my favorite is the Jefferson Memorial set at the edge of the Potomac River Tidal Basin.
I am still learning about Jefferson's political beliefs, but, as an English major, I cannot help but absolutely love the Declaration of Independence's poetic lines and brilliant philosophy. (John Locke be damned.) The massive, 19-foot bronze man standing in the Memorial's center still amazes me upon every viewing as its size is, I think, absolutely fitting. The words, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," encircle Jefferson's statue.