Jim Colburn:
Don't Ask

"I've Got Your Transition
Problems Right Here"

In Great Britain they have a Parliament. People get elected to Parliament and the majority of them get together and form a government. The head man is called the Prime Minister and he appoints a few of his buddies to lead various departments and they are known as his cabinet. They think they run the country.

They are wrong.

Great Britain is actually run by a small group of senior civil servants that continue in their jobs for decades, doing a little of what the Conservative Party wants and a little of what the Labour Party wants and always what they themselves want. Radical change is not considered to be a good thing so the advice these senior civil servants tend to give is "moderation in all things." While annoying on many levels the system does seem to work.

In the United States, specifically in Washington, D.C., we have a President, a Congress and a Supreme Court. The President proposes budgets, signs bills into law and releases Executive Orders. The two houses of Congress hold committee hearings, propose laws and vote on their passage. The Supreme Court decides whether or not that laws passed by the Congress and the President are "constitutional." The President, the Congress and the Supreme Court think they run the country.

They are wrong.

The United States is run by 24 year olds. Men and women just out of college. Willing to work for less than minimum wage. Willing to share a run-down house in a lousy neighborhood with 5 other people. Willing to exist on Domino's Pizzas and happy-hour bar food. Willing, in other words, to spend another four to eight years living like a college student so that they can experience something they haven't seen, heard or touched.


The power of these 24 year olds is huge. They research and write laws. They find precedents and do the first, second and sometime final drafts of major court opinions. They are the buffers between our elected officials and their constituents. Policy may be set by press secretaries and communications directors, but it's implemented by 24 year olds.

Most of them are decent people. Most grow into their jobs and acquire a certain patina of knowledge and wisdom. Most turn out to laugh at the jokes you think are funny. A select few get really good at their jobs and actually make the life of a photojournalist easy and productive. Those select few are usually snapped up quickly by PR companies and never see the inside of a government building again.

Because of the recent elections it's that time again. A whole new crop of 24 year olds. Even though it looks like George W. Bush is re-inventing the Ford administration there's going to be a lot of fresh faced college kids coming to town to work as foot soldiers in Washington. They're going to try and come up with some "fresh" ideas, most of which have been tried before, and then wonder about those crazy photographers and their complaints ("What do you mean you've changed where the President stands during a state arrival ceremony? It's 10:00 o'clock in the morning and he'll be BACK-LIT!")

All we can do is hope for the best and say "Free pizza and beer whenever you want!"

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed are barely my own much less my employer's so don't blame Time Magazine, Time Inc. or Time-Warner for anything written here. I would strongly urge everyone to sign up for AOL, use lots of their premium services and, what the heck, pre pay their bill for the next three years or so. It might not do much for you but if I could get 1,000,000 people to do that I think I'd be in for a pretty hefty bonus at the end of 2001.

James Colburn ( james.colburn@pressroom.com)

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