It is amazing how little you need to know about the House of Representatives and Senate in order to get an internship. I reckon that is why they call it a learning experience, but you would think that they would at least teach interns how to recognize important people. I, for one, could not identify at least 85 of the 100 senators when I started interning in my Senator’s office last year. In fact, my ignorance blindly led me into an encounter with the new most powerful member of the Senate.

I was on the underground subway that transports people from the Capitol to the various office buildings. I do not recall why I was in such a rush, but I was anxious to return to the office. I sat alone in one of the cars, and then a man entered and sat beside me despite the numerous other empty cars. The people who work on Capitol Hill do not wear nametags, and usually senators have a posse of followers surrounding them, so I assumed he was one of the multitudinous staff workers. He introduced himself, but for some reason I did not catch the name – I only caught that he was from Tennessee. We chatted for a little bit; I told him I was a Georgetown student, mentioned I knew a few Tennessee people and would love to visit the state. You know, friendly small talk. We got off the subway and I extended the courteous “Nice to meet you” before departing for the elevator. A few seconds later he, too, got in the lift and I exited one floor below him. So I filed the conversation in the memory bank of “nice subway guy who I probably will never encounter again.” When I returned to the office, though, I saw the gentleman on the television discussing anthrax – and you can imagine my shock to learn that the friendly subway man was, in actuality, Sen. William Frist of Tennessee.

Around the same time, one of my fellow humble interns had a subway run-in of her own – only she recognized the man who sat next to her as Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss). Her experience was quite different; first the senator asked which office she worked in, and when she replied he said, “Oh, I didn’t know there were pretty girls in that state.” When she mentioned she was actually from Minnesota, he stated that he knew a pretty girl from Minnesota once. As a conclusion to the conversation, the Senator proudly asked, “Do you know who I am?” to which my friend retorted, “Yeah, whatever… ” and walked off the subway train. Interpret the interaction as you wish, but for me it confirmed a poor opinion of Lott.

Two interns, two Republican senators, both majority leaders, and yet the meetings were incredibly different occurrences. I never liked Lott’s politics, and my friend’s personal experience merely reinforced my negative opinion of his character. Thus for me it did not take racist remarks at a birthday party to formulate a disapproving perception of the then-leading Senate Republican.

On the other hand, I still do not know much about Frist – I know he is a former heart surgeon turned senator, and, aside from party affiliation, I know nothing about his principles. With the new media attention over Frist’s promotion to majority leader in the Senate, I think the next intern on the subway will recognize him. My subway scenario, though, still plays in my mind whenever I see Frist in the media today. Though the fact that Republicans control the United States government still irks my incredibly liberal mind, somehow I feel a little better to know that a friendly chap now sets the party’s senatorial standard. As a conservative, Frist probably stands against everything I believe in, but at least he took the time out of his busy schedule to be friendly to a lowly Senate intern. Although I loathe the Republican politics Frist represents, I maintain a deep respect for his character and hope he brings honorable politicians back to the mainstream.

Noah Riseman is a junior in the College.

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