The justification for the page program is that it gives teenagers an insider’s glimpse of how Congress works. But why disillusion them at such a tender age? If they stayed in school, they could maintain their innocence by reading the old step-by-step textbook version of how a bill becomes law. By going to Capitol Hill, they see how the process has changed:
1. A bill is introduced to build highways.
2. A congressman receives a donation from a constituent who wants to open a go-kart track.
3. The congressman persuades his committee chairman to slip in a $350 million “earmark” for an “alternative sustainable transportation research facility” in his district.
4. The chairman quietly adds similar earmarks for all members of the committee.
5. The bill is passed unanimously.
6. The president complains about the “wasteful spending” but signs it into law anyway.
7. The congressman attends a fund-raiser at the new go-kart track.
What lesson has the page learned? That Congress is the closest thing in modern America to a medieval court: an enclave governed by arcane ancient rules of seniority, a gathering of nobles who spend their days accepting praise and dispensing favors to supplicants.
Once my wife wakes up (it's before sunrise as I post this) we'll have to get her take on the page system... although I don't think she was herself a page, she did intern in Senator Bob Dole's office back in the Late Pleistocene era.