It is a situation we all find ourselves in at some point in our lives: when fiction becomes reality or, rather, where our lives begin to mimic fiction. Perhaps we find ourselves embroiled in a complicated love triangle reminiscent of that soap opera we hate to admit we watch. Or maybe a gathering among friends seems vaguely familiar, almost like our very own episode of “Friends.” Better yet, perhaps a romantic gesture rivals that of our favorite Hollywood love story or, in a much worse scenario, a romantic disaster rivals that of a Hollywood horror story. In most cases, we tell ourselves that these things could never happen to us, and then out of nowhere, they do.
It now seems that my life may soon bear a striking similarity to this season’s “Alias.” For those who have somehow managed to escape the draw of the spy show, Jennifer Garner’s CIA agent was faced with a serious dilemma: She could have accepted a new under-the-radar CIA position working for the very man she had been fighting against for years, or she could have walked away from a job that she knows she is more than capable of handling. In spite of the implications, she decides to do the former.
The parallel scenario in my life is that I might have to decide between taking an opportunity to work in the Justice Department, where I would technically be working for the Bush administration, or walking away from the opportunity. After all, just as Garner’s character fought her new boss, I campaigned against our current president and even offered critiques in some of my opinion articles less than a year ago. On another level, I would technically be working for newly appointed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who some have dubbed the “torture czar” and implicated in the tortures of Iraqi prisoners. To do so would be difficult considering how emotionally affected I was by some of the political cartoons that appeared in the European press last summer, specifically one that had replaced the stars on our flag with torture masks.
Some people then ask, why, as a matter of principle, work for the Justice Department? Why even consider it as a possibility, especially as a Democrat who bleeds blue? The reason goes beyond the mere fact, as some Justice Department employees note, that much of the politics pervading the upper echelons of the Department do not affect day-to-day operations, and therefore, my role would be subsequently unaffected by political warfare.
Instead, the reasoning rests with the supposed nature of the Justice Department itself and the principles by which it is supposed to operate. The government bureaucracy — whether it is the Department of Education, the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Labor — should, in theory, enact policies that solve the problems of all Americans and protect all Americans, putting politics aside. The Justice Department should also, in theory, operate on the principle of using the laws (even, unfortunately, politically motivated ones) as they were meant to be used: to protect Americans and to safeguard their rights in a manner that is fair and just, again putting politics aside. The Constitution, not party platforms, should be the basis of all decisions. In spite of the political motivations some may have in seeking justice, the correct use of justice should lead to non-partisan results.
There is no doubt that I, and many other Democrats, object to certain pieces of legislation utilized by the Department of Justice, such as the civil-liberties intrusive Patriot Act. But since we exist as a nation of laws that are supposed to represent the majority and yet be respectful of the minority, young Democrats seeking to gain government experience should not shy away from the many jobs available within the government nor feel guilty for pursuing them — no matter how much they bleed blue; how opposed they are to the ideologies of the Bush administration; or how dejected they may feel because Bush is in his second term. The government, like educational institutions and workplaces, benefits from diversity of ideas, perspectives and experiences on all levels.
So, in spite of the fact that there are no Democrats who occupy the highest bureaucratic offices, we can at least hope to, even at the lowest levels, continue the exchange of ideas in arenas unaffected by the political debate at the top. Through this lens, gaining experience by working in government can only help formulate, reshape or even sometimes sharpen our own beliefs. Furthermore, after directly participating in government, our basis of comparison and ability to speak with greater authority on an issue — whether it is education, health, justice or labor — will be much stronger, especially when seeking to work in other arenas of government and even at its highest levels.
Which means that if I do have the opportunity to work for the government upon graduation, whether in the Justice Department or in any other capacity, the need to resolve an “Alias”-like dilemma need not exist, and at least this time my reality can avoid any parallels to fiction. After all, it’s not as if I’m seeking employment as a White House intern, or with a Republican legislator or think tank, and most certainly not for FOX News. While some may be able to resolve even these issues based on the justifications I’ve offered for working in the government, for me, having to rub shoulders with Ann Coulter would definitely mimic a Hollywood horror story.
Alicia Washington is a senior in Trumbull College.