I think now is as a good a time as any to start with the politics side of things. So let’s start with my a topic inspired by favorite political drama…
As Aaron Sorkin explains to us during the first season of “The West Wing,” Andrew Jackson had, in the lobby of his White House, a big block of cheese. He would let anyone who was hungry come and eat it. In that spirit, President Jed Bartlett and the rest of Sorkin’s White House staff implemented “Big Block of Cheese Day” to allow groups who normally wouldn’t get meetings in the White House to speak with senior staff. A few years ago, President Obama implemented this in real life!
Of course at most lower government offices, every day is Big Block of Cheese Day. People see the government as something from “The West Wing” or “House of Cards.” They know what the media covers and that tends to be the conflict and horse race of it. But the day to day of the government isn’t politics, it’s policy. In the District Office of the Member of Congress I’ve interned for, most calls are from people who need help or want their voice to be heard. It isn’t glamorous and, unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as amusing as they make it out to be on TV.
A substantial portion of what I do at the office is fielding phone calls from constituents (I also draft a lot of letters for special occasions and research various local matters). Some people call just to give an opinion. Even when it is an opinion I personally find distasteful, I still manage to summon up a bit of appreciation for the fact that people really do call their congressperson. Some of these people yell at me as though I’m the problem, but most, after they finish yelling, thank me for listening because they just want to be heard. And I always listen and I thank everyone for calling because, at the very least, they make every day feel like Big Block of Cheese Day.
Of course some people call for help. We can’t always help them–a lot of people call with issues that are outside federal jurisdiction and we direct them to someone who is better able to assist–but often we can do something. Casework, from what I’ve seen, is rather tedious. It involves a lot of research and letter writing and waiting, often followed by more research and letters! But at the end of the day, I think it really makes a difference for the people we help.
And cynicism aside, that is what the government ultimately does: it helps people. Sure, Congress is stuck in partisan gridlock and, therefore, is doing less than the infamous “Do Nothing” Congress; the crippled, 8-member Supreme Court is knocking important cases back down to the lower courts; and the 2016 Presidential primaries are shaping up to be particularly mean and not at all substantive. But the day to day work of individuals within the government actually helps people. That’s what Big Block of Cheese Day is really about.