The New Establishment

Former Justice Department official Monica Goodling appears on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Former Justice Department official Monica Goodling appears on Capitol Hill Wednesday. (By Mark Wilson -- Getty Images)

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By Hanna Rosin
Friday, May 25, 2007

To the Bush haters of America, the young Monica Goodling is a footnote of this wretched era, one of the many Washington types that they'll be happy to get rid of come January 2009: Venal Vice President, Ex-Lobbyists Turned Regulators and, in Goodling's case, Young Evangelicals in High Places.

Until she appeared before the House Judiciary Committee this week to testify about her role in the Justice Department firing scandal, Goodling had been mocked on the Internet and on late-night TV as a certain type: one of a "bunch of hayseeds" staffing the administration, as HBO comedian Bill Maher called her.

Goodling graduated from Messiah College ("home of the Fighting Christies") and the law school at Regent University, founded by Pat Robertson ("a televangelist's diploma mill") -- both Maher's terms.

But the joke is on Maher: The age of the televangelist is as dead as Jerry Falwell, and the Regent Web site treats Robertson like a fondly remembered patriarch from a bygone era, when it was suitable to call yourself a "fundamentalist" and scream on TV.

Goodling is part of a new generation of evangelicals ushered in by Falwell, who insisted that Christians get involved in politics. They are graduates of the exploding number of evangelical colleges, which no longer aim to create a parallel subculture but instead to train "Christian leaders to change the world," as the Regent mission statement reads.

It used to be that being 33 and in charge of 93 U.S. attorneys would mean you'd been top of your class at Harvard or Yale or clerked at the Supreme Court. Now, Christian schools are joining that mix. Regent has had 150 of its graduates working in the White House; the school estimates that one-sixth of its alumni are in government work. Call them the Goodlings: scrubbed young ideologues, ready to serve their nation, the right's version of the Peace Corps generation.

The image of Goodling that emerged in the hearing did not match the "hayseed" of Maher's imagination. A colleague said that it was not unusual to find Goodling BlackBerrying at 2 a.m. or preparing briefs late into the night. Goodling described one bit of office politics as a clash between two "Type A" women in which she played the Eve Harrington character in "All About Eve" and won. "Televangelist" did not seem to be on her list of career goals.

Falwell and Robertson were outsiders and always behaved like it. Goodling's Christian contemporaries grew up with Bush as their president, speaking their language. Even after this administration is gone, they can work for one of the more than 150 members of Congress who call themselves evangelical or dozens of conservative think tanks and activist groups. Or they can run for office: Robert McDonnell, Virginia's attorney general, is a Regent alum. They are part of the Washington establishment now and, much to Bill Maher's chagrin, they will be around long after Bush is gone.

Recently, I spent a lot of time among the students at Patrick Henry College, a seven-year-old school founded in much the same spirit as Regent. The students there easily matched Goodling's description of herself as "anal retentive." They input their daily schedules into Palm Pilots in 15-minute increments -- read Bible, do crunches, take shower, study for Latin quiz. They intern at the White House. The atmosphere is much more Harvard than Bob Jones.

A 1996 study found that evangelical college students were remarkably unified in their political identification: More than two-thirds called themselves Republicans, and only 9 percent said they were Democrats. At Patrick Henry, I heard a rumor that someone had voted for John Kerry. I chased down many leads. All dead ends. If it was true, no one would publicly admit it.

While testifying this week, Goodling admitted that she had asked inappropriately partisan questions of applicants for civil service jobs. But she never asked about religion, she said. Unlike their elders, the new generation of evangelicals does not turn the cubicle into a pulpit. If they are intent on implementing God's will, they do it with professional discretion.

It took the conservative political movement 30 years to become a fixture in American politics, and it's taken evangelicals about the same. Like conservatives, evangelicals may remain chronically ambivalent, afflicted with a persecution complex despite their obvious successes. But they are embedded firmly enough into Washington to provide jobs for smart young Christians for generations to come.

Hanna Rosin, who covered religion for The Post, is the author of "God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America," due out in September. Her e-mail address is hanna.rosin@gmail.com.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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