Two weeks before Voting Day, and I was knee-deep in garbage.
The internship was American politics in action from the get-go: I got a good job with the campaign because one of the campaign consultants was an alumni member of my fraternity. My qualifications: working on a Poli Sci degree (the emphasis was on International Relations, which meant that I could tell you all about the sordid history of the French/Middle Eastern arms trade, but couldn't tell you who my Congressman was - turns out my Assemblyman was an Assemblywoman), and I'd done some volunteering for the other side a couple of years ago, doing some canvassing for a Congressman who as of this writing is rotting in prison. I knew the guy was a crook even back then, but his party gave away free booze on Election Night to underage staffers.
So my internship, working for the Assemblywoman: I was a Point Guy, who did a couple of things. First, I was tasked to arrange a series of Meet N' Greets - my candidate speaking to small groups of voters at the homes of various top supporters. Second, I was to gather "actionable intelligence" on our opponent. Meaning that every ad, statement, flyer, mailer, was to be obtained and fact-checked, and any lies...let's call them what they are, I was told - "mistakes" are made by stupid people, and stupid people don't run campaigns; assume that whatever is done or said is deliberate, and aimed at a certain block of voters with the intent of winning their hearts and minds - politics is war by other means, and words and images are the political operator's smart bombs and guided missiles. Actionable intelligence. Data wins elections. Information is everything. There are facts and there is "truth"; the operator's job is to take the facts and mold them into the truth, more accurately a truth. Ideals...ideals are for voters. Idealogues have no place in a campaign operation. Leave what you believe at the HQ door; it'll only get in the way of getting your candidate elected. Assume this: the opponent's team will lie and cheat and have his or her people do whatever it takes to win. You must do the same, and the only validation is a victory.
So one day I found myself knee-deep in garbage. Specifically, in the early evening, in a dumpster behind our opponent's HQ. They'd all gone home for the evening and now I was rummaging through their trash, in the hopes of intercepting a flyer that was to go out the following morning. Actionable intelligence. The world before the Internet was a much different place, where campaign mailers actually meant something. A simpler time. Bingo. Found a stack of extras...and the proofs. Who throws away the proofs? Amateurs. We shredded everything, because we assumed that they'd be sending their interns to dig through our garbage. So, actionable intelligence - I found the mailers, and learned that the other side wasn't as paranoid as we were. Useful data. I'd earned my stripes for the day. I took the documents straight back to our offices, still smelling like a garbage disposal. I dropped them off on the boss' desk, with a note: "Nothing new as far as policy goes, but take a good look at the photo. Wedding ring."
The next day, the story was the photo, with the papers asking all sorts of questions about Divorced Candidate Seen In Publicity Photo Wearing Wedding Ring. Actionable intelligence. We won the election.