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May 27, 2005

Help from the Intern


It was interesting this week to observe the reaction to both the truce on the nuclear option, and George Voinovich’s emotional speech on the Senate floor opposing John Bolton.

Both the hard core left and the radical right went ballistic over the idea of a compromise.  At the same time, Voinovich’s emotional attack on Bolton — seen as too little too late by the left, and a flat-out betrayal by the right — was collectively written off as the folly of a wimp.  (Somehow, the lefties who viewed Voinovich as weak for not burying Bolton in committee seemed aloof to the fact this speech might have been an act of political suicide.)

I understand the desire not to give in, but I’m also starting to wonder about the cost.  I am even more concerned about it after watching the Voinovich clip and studying this MSNBC still.  In analyzing this image, you can basically split it into four aspects:  There is the Senate chamber in the background.  There is Voinovich.  There is the titling at the bottom of the screen.  And there is the person I’m calling “the intern.”

Because the background is often empty in a typical Senate floor speech, I don’t find much remarkable there.

Viewing the still like you would a photograph, Voinovich looks like any Senator giving his 2¢ in a C-SPAN out take.  Certainly, you don’t get much feeling of emotion from it.

As for the titling, it suggests Voinovich is crying.  Anyone familiar with cable news, however, knows these titles are dumb.  Also, comparing the man to the title, it doesn’t visually connect.  (In fact, the title doesn’t fit the clip, either.  He may have been emotional, but I thought Voinovich’s statement reflected more strength than weakness.) 

The reason I’m running this image, however, is because of the intern.

One of the great pleasures I receive from blogging are the messages I get from high school and college students.  They are just hungry to understand, read into, and particularly, see through the staging, the scripting and the general bullshit in the typical political picture.

If you preview this clip, watch this young woman.  Most of us who have been following politics might be terminally jaded by now, but not this girl.  She couldn’t be more affected by Voinovich’s appeal.  In fact, her expressiveness almost jumps out of the frame.

For myself, I couldn’t be happier to see this young women react so powerfully and genuinely to a Senate floor speech.  If this new generation decided it had to push us all aside in the name of moderation, I can’t imagine it would be such a bad thing.  If there’s anything I find more troubling than right wing extremism and the control that faction exerts over government, it’s the poisonous atmosphere the exists all the way around.

Video here (Windows Media Player format)

(image: MSNBC footage at

  • jon st

    It is obvious, and moving, at least to this observer, that your comments regarding the intern were accurate. And it was equally moving, as well, to watch the Senator himself. It was a rare display of unscripted intensity and emotion on a floor that see less and less of those qualities.
    That said; your almost ritualistic equivocation of the Left and Right strikes me as a bit hollow. Many on the so called far ‘Left’ were moved and appreciative of Voinovich’s role in the ENTIRE Bolton process. I don’t see ANY on the Extreme Right that appreciated his intellectual honesty. That is a subjective statement on my part, of course. But if you have time take a stroll over to The Washington Note and see if my claim has any reality to it.
    Still, Bolton came out of committee and now stands a good chance of gaining the nomination. So, those who oppose Bolton, while thankful of Voinovich’s role, (at least many of us) are rightfully distressed at losing ANOTHER round to Bush. And, from our (my?) narrow perspective, witnessing our Republic losing another round to Bush.
    I too lament the “poisonous atmosphere [that] exists all the way around”. And where possible all of us, I would suggest, should try and do what we can to avoid exacerbating the situation. However, this avoidance should not come at the cost of resisting Bush with one iota less of intensity.
    I am certain (of course I do recall Camus’ words ‘what good is certainty when it is shared with so many fools’. None the less, I am still “certain”) we are IN a vicious fight, with a vicious opponent (Right wing extremism and its new (old?) ally: elements of the National Security State) and the stakes are the Republic, and our freedom. I see nothing to be gained in dehumanizing my enemy. But I see nothing to be gained by backing down from the viciousness of the battle. Mind you, I don’t think that is what you were implying…..but I wanted to make my position as clear as I am capable: to wit, we should NOT be happy, or satisfied, when we fight (what we (I?) perceive to be) the noble fight, and yet lose. As with Bolton. If it turns out that way.
    We should detest losing. However, this political meme, heightened by the filibuster ‘compromise’, that portrays so-called moderates in the middle, caught between equally bad extreme wings of the body politic, is in my opinion flat out bullshit. J’accuse the moderates! They have failed to stand up the right wing extremists. So now who is Left? So to speak……

  • George Myers

    Sometimes it seems like just awhile ago I met the guy who attempted to drive across Africa with a surfboard on top of the Land Rover, trying to see the effects of “Western Civilization” there and just yesterday denied access to the United Nation library (without a Ph.D. or a note from one) while my VW was parked next to Idi Amin’s embassy in NYC, yet I know that many changes have come to Africa, and perhaps many more deadly ones to sub-Saharan Africa (an anthropology professor (Stevenson) of mine wrote a book about that region, trying to list all the known peoples there) with predicted climate change since that time. We have “blood for stones” with diamonds said to be exchanged by Al-Qaida, an untraceable source of funds, despite some of our politicos’ opinions, in Africa. where, we have yet to explore solutions to problems there. I would hope that our American focus will not be knocked out of kilter by stressing “terrorism” to an insidious effect, losing our standing on “terrafirma”. I hope that studying “mass behavior in battle and captivity” does not become the US’s solution to international problems, as a former US Ambassador to the UN wrote and published about (Jeane J. Kirkpatrick), back in 1968 about “the Communist Soldier In The Korean War”.

  • pepper

    What am I missing? This young woman sits there passively, almost expressionless, during the whole MSNBC clip you link. Yes, a vague sense of discomfort shows on her face. But a deeply emotional reaction? What are you talking about?
    Now, Voinovich, on the other hand, was incredible. That goddam “blubberin’” title was sickening. Goddam bunch of feigning macho assholes, the media.

  • kingmaker

    I think your reading too much into her expression. She could have just as easily been thinking, ” I hope no one smells that fart!”

  • PTate in MN

    A deeply moving clip. Voinovich begins to tear up because he is so deeply distressed, and the intern gets teary as well. She is quite, quite vivid, not quite sure what to think but responding to the emotion of the moment.
    I don’t know what it is about reading faces. I see great emotion in her face. She is transparent. But people interpret things differently. I look at GWB, and I see a manipulative, deceitful man who leaks contempt for his audience. But, obviously, a lot of people think he is a straight talker and a man of integrity.
    I wish I knew how we could thank Voinovich for his courage.

  • The BAG

    I’ve been thinking about jon st’s comment about compromise. There is that conventional notion that the left ultimately gives in because we fall victim to more pacifist or humanist tendencies. I had an almost impossible time writing this post. I think it is because of that conflict between fighting for peace and making peace. When jon st implies that we cannot afford to compromise, it strengthens that fighting side again. Still, when you see GOP moderates start to pull away from GOP extremists, it is hard to hang back and hope they will fracture further, rather than want to rush in and start getting “something out of it after we have been so shut out.

    Regarding pepper’s comment: I realize there is a big difference between looking at a video and a still from a video. How do you explain the difference in perception between pepper and PTate, however, in how they read the intern. Like PTate, I believe the intern was quite affected by the speech. Just look at how her eyes seem to well up at one point. (Of course, I believe the still frame is also legitimate evidence.) At the same time, you have to remember she is in the camera’s eye on the floor of the Senate, so these emotions are playing out at a fairly discreet level. If you don’t take that into account, it will look like she isn’t reacting much at all.

  • MH

    I don’t know anything about the Senate rules, procedures or practices.
    But doesn’t that “intern” look like a court reporter listening and concentrating on every word to create a meaningful transcript of the proceedings? I have seen that “removed-but-I’m-really-listening” look in many depostions and in court.

  • pepper

    not sure, The BAG, if you were saying otherwise, but I did in fact see the video (not just the still). And, I don’t know how to account for what i saw (didn’t see) in this young woman v. what you and PTate saw. I just think reading a great deal of emotion into her face is a big leap. Without knowing more about who she is, why she’s there, etc., i think it’s very speculative at best to ascribe any set of feelings to her.
    And, fwiw, PTate, I completely agree with your assessment of Bush’s body language and whole aura when he speaks. Screams of dispresect, no patience, arrogance, and a coarse, unkind stupidity. He seems like a manipulative, mean-spirited fake. How anybody can see a genuine ‘love to have a beer with him’ kind of guy is beyond me.

  • DCMike

    Not to make too big a deal out of this but I’d just like to point out that this person is almost certainly not an intern. It takes specific permission to get on the floor of the Senate and it is generally reserved for permanent staff. Most of the time the person you see sitting behind the Senator in a speech such as this is the Legislative Assistant who handles the issue being discussed for the Senator. Most likely she wrote the speech the Senator is delivering and I think with that context her reactions, and occasional lack thereof, make perfect sense. This speech certainly was a big deal and I think the seriousness of the situation is reflected perfectly on her face.

  • pepper

    DCMike – that’s a good analysis, you may well be right. but we don’t know if that or any number of other plausible scenarios jives with the reality.

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