Following a year filled with political intrigue and controversy in which passionate presidential primaries shocked the nation, I found myself pondering the place of politics and government in our nation. As a political science and philosophy double major, I have always been fascinated by the inner workings of our nation’s government, and my three years at Hope College have provided me with a proficient understanding of American politics. In the past few years, it became apparent to me that the U.S. political system has many prominent flaws. It is evident that a significant portion of the country’s population is exceedingly pessimistic about the state of politics in the U.S.
I became discouraged by this pessimism and began to think the government was causing more division in the country than unity. I then distanced myself from affairs of the state and withheld any desire to pursue politics as a profession. This past semester, however, I participated in an off-campus program in Washington, D.C., through Hope’s political science department. This placed me amidst immeasurable political debate and discussion during two vehement presidential primaries. As I spent more time around political think tanks and government agencies, my appreciation for the importance of government began to reshape.
While I was in Washington, D.C., I contemplated the possibility of working in a political office. I had been informed by my parents that Senator Richard Durbin, the Democratic minority whip in Senate, offered summer internships in his Springfield office. I was immediately attracted to the position because of Senator Durbin’s outstanding reputation as a sensible and effective politician. I applied and received the internship in Senator Durbin’s office. I was enthusiastic about the position because it would provide me with valuable exposure to the inner workings of a political office as well as an opportunity to serve my community and state.
I quickly learned that working in Senator Durbin’s office was significantly different than any of my prior internships. I was required to approach each day with focus and energy in order to perform. Every morning I read articles in the Springfield Journal-Register and compiled a list of relevant news stories for Senator Durbin’s press office. I was also instructed to create a document listing all of the obituaries in the Springfield area and opened the Senator’s mail on a daily basis. These responsibilities were accompanied by additional assignments such as writing grant notifications and support letters on behalf of the senator and calling constituents in order to follow up on complaints and concerns.
The bulk of my work was embedded in answering phone calls from constituents who had questions, requests and criticisms for the Senator. I was expected to answer their questions, to direct their requests or simply to listen to their criticisms. Most of the people who called the office were courteous and respectful; however, there were a handful of callers who were impolite and angry. That is not to say that there were not justified in their frustration because many times I was appalled by the distress they were caused by certain government agencies. The members of Senator Durbin’s staff worked vigorously in order to improve the situations of these constituents, and I was impressed by their diligence and willingness to help those in need.
While working in Senator Durbin’s office, I became more intimately aware of the benefits a political office provides to citizens. There were countless constituents concerned around veterans’ affairs, social security and immigration, and almost all of them were able to successfully solve their problems with the assistance of the Senator’s staff. While there were some constituents who were unable to resolve the issues they brought forward, this was usually due to the inadequacies within some government agencies. These flaws can be very frustrating and are not ideal; however, they should not cause us to lose hope in our government and further ourselves from politics. On the contrary, these imperfections should lead us to take action and to work toward improving deficient government systems.
While many people continue to feel frustrated with mainstream politics, my admiration for the government has grown stronger over the past year. Not only because I was actively a part of political debate in Washington, D.C., and exposed to the inner workings of a Senator’s office, but I also, because of the good government programs and offices, continue to provide in unexpected places.