Washington, D.C. Interns:
The Tip of the Iceberg
The 21st century in America opened with a bang in a national scandal/mystery that never quite resolved itself. Terrorism, war, and corporate scandal overshadowed what seemed to be a media headline hunt to fill a tabloid vacancy in the absence of a more scintillating crisis.
We, ourselves, were not particularly interested in the media hunt regarding the disappearance and presumed murder of a congressional intern named Chandra Levy. Her body has since been found, but the murder remains unsolved. Her married lover lost re-election and has basically been destroyed politically, but has not been implicated in the murder.
For the record, we do not suggest, nor believe, that the senator in question was responsible for the murder of the intern.
This essay is not so much about the case in question as it is about the appearance of a syndrome which we believe to be the tip of the iceberg - namely, the exploitation of attractive, college-educated women in Washington.
We believe that the case of Chandra Levy is an apparent culmination of a galloping problem inherent in our nation's capitols. We have, in the year or so since that scandal, seen a small headline here and there regarding allegations of other interns.
To some extent, some of this can be dismissed as the copy-cat syndrome... certain people getting attention by mimicking the complaints of other people who garnered sympathy and interest in like-circumstances.
However, recent history itself has paralleled this trend in the case of the Catholic and other churches in regard to allegations of sexual abuse. It doesn't take a mathematician outside the church to count the sheer number of headlines, stories, and accusations, correlated with an equal and greater number of headlines regarding resignations, dismissals, and lawsuits within the Catholic Church, to see that there is an epidemic of abuse within the church hierarchy.
What we find naive and ridiculous is the assumption that this is a "new" problem. The sheer volume of complaints, supported by the voluminous tide of clerical firings, resignations, relocations, etc., resulting from allegations going back a minimum of 20 years, is evidence in itself of a massive denial and cover-up problem going back for centuries - if not within the entire history of the church.
A wise man, or as a good priest should be - ought to see that not only are many cases true and documented, but an even greater number of cases are not reported or sufficiently documented, thus never coming to light at all.
Worse, given this tip-of-the-iceberg pattern, it is sheer folly to presume even for an instant that these aberrations are "new" or restricted to a mere handful of sick individuals or unusual circumstances.
The difference between the Catholic Church and the (ahem) Affairs of Congress is, we say, that the Catholic Church is at least admitting there's a problem, and are debating around the world - into the heart of the Vatican - how to resolve and eradicate the problem.
The American Congress, on the other hand, has not been forced to admit there is a problem.
Not to put too fine a line on it, but some members of Congress seem to be promoting a post-finishing school whorehouse.
The problem is not limited to Congress, we know, but we are holding Congress primarily responsible because it is the Congress as a ruling and elective body that is supposed to legislate the laws, including the proper application of standards.
The Justice branch is supposed to determine the Law of the land; the Executive branch is supposed to enforce the Law of the land; the Legislative branch is supposed to, as representative voices of the majority, determine and uphold the Authority of the Law of the land.
Congress has an issue on its hands it is not admitting; that of bedroom politics in an administrative capacity. Women, now having the right to vote and to receive an equal education, are now more than just secretaries in Washington, D.C. Collegiate ladies now have an opportunity to become more than political wives, supporters and functionaries.
Women are now journalists, paralegals, and congressional support staff. Because of their positions as interns, also known as on-the-job trainees, they are much closer to politicians at work than ever before. They are, by the nature of their responsibilities, not just 9-to-5 personnel; they are like modern-day major domos, personal assistants who are up-to-date on the least little details of congressional administration.
It may be difficult under such circumstances not to get at least a little personal, but if sexual equality were a legally-enforced standard of ethical and moral conduct, then it should also be possible to be personal, yet remain professional, by both the interns and the politicians who employ them.
We believe that the interns, for the most part, are aware of this, and indeed, take pride in their opportunity to serve their country by taking part in the microcosm of what is known as the Democratic process.
But how democratic is it when a female intern is relegated to the role of a second-class citizen, and while her work and efficiency might be praised and admired in a legislator's office, her legs, backside, and other traits of female-ness are still conversation barter in a locker-room, bar, or press-room... off-camera, and off-the-record, of course.
"Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more," as Eric Idle immortalized in a Monty Python sketch, is still a password in Washington, D.C., as everywhere else.
What if, we wonder, Chandra Levy had been ugly? What if, we wonder, she had been brusque, business-like, and downright butch? We imagine such a person might have been very efficient, respected, and even feared. She also would have been left alone.
Washington, D.C. is a power-vacuum like no other place in the world. It would be challenging for any citizen who suddenly found themselves to be a "Player" not to feel the emanating aura of power, and even an historic sense of righteousness and effectiveness.
Especially hard would that be for a young person fresh out of college, ambitious and skilled, educated and trained, one thinks, to operate at the center of the vortex that essentially controls the destiny of all men in one of the greatest nations ever known.
We grant the possibility that many interns do not have this crystal clarity of their responsibility and choice; but we assert our belief that very few elected politicians in Capitol Hill are not aware of the enormity of the moral choices and consequences they face.
By proxy, as the "elders," or appointed guardians, they, too, should know the mental and emotional challenges of the new faces on Capitol Hill, and guide and steer them into responsible, adult patterns of behavior and responsibility within the scope of life on the Capitol.
We also assert that many of those "guardians" have already fallen in their moral obligations when they passively accept that their fellow congressmen are, from time to time, bulls who wander into another pasture, ostensibly to give the cows a break.
Even the cows would say, "bullshit."
Yet, even with all that has been asserted, our complaint is not so much with sexual prudence or restraint (or lack thereof), but a specific complaint that it is the interns who are being exploited, much more than the public even begins to guess.
Our complaint begins with the sacrilege of the Public Trust, as embodied by the young, hopeful, ambitious interns who sail into Washington, D.C. at the end of every college semester, hoping to prove themselves, and to learn at the hands of the people they were brought up to believe were guiding lights and masters of congressional protocol and procedure.
Our complaint is summarized in the violation of that Public Trust, when interns are sexually exploited, dismissed, and then abandoned and thrown to the ladder of ambition, to climb or fall - their success determined pretty much in direct proportion to what they might have learned about intrigue, manipulation, and street-smarts from the very mentors that used them and then threw them out.
It is, we say, our belief that the tip of the iceberg has not been revealed - and may not be for some time. It could happen within this decade... but it will happen.
And how is John Q. Public going to feel when they find that Chandra Levy was not an isolated experience? How are citizens going to feel when they find that it's not just a "floozy" here and there, but their own college-educated daughters who are bedded and bucked out of the system because they knew too much, were inconvenient, or simply in the way of political ambition?
The history of America has much to be sad about, to an educated person, including the fact that very few Americans really know their history - of America, or the world. Politicians, it seems, know enough history to know what they can get away with, including exploitation of the public trough, graft, excess and bartering.
The American Public will take an awful lot of good-natured swindling, mismanagement, and downright white- and blue-collar boosting, as our history has demonstrated; but the American Public has not reacted kindly, in the past, to direct and inescapable exploitation of its most prized resource - Humanity, itself.
The citizens will take it a lot worse when they find out it's not just sons sent off to war, but daughters sent off to Washington, D.C. to become sacrificial virgins (in spirit if not in virtue), to the altar of republic conscience.
The Institution of Sexism has got to be removed from our elected offices and sacred institutions of Democracy. We can get the pimps out of Washington, D.C., or we can have another civil war.
The war of races has already been fought; that of the sexes is still confined to bedrooms. The problem is that bedroom politics are now being played out within the highest administrations of our government, and it's a trend that won't go away soon - and certainly not by itself.
These are your children. You decide.
Educate yourself, and Vote.