They read Conservative Digest and Ayn Rand, not Rolling Stone and Kurt Vonnegut, wear white shirts and rep ties, not corduroy jeans and hiking boots. Their heroes are Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan, not Bobby Kennedy and Cesar Chavez. They talk about strengthening our national defense, not taming the military-industrial complex. They want to get right with Jesus, not Clean for Gene. They work for Moral Majority and Conservative Caucus, not Ralph Nader and Common Cause.
Meet the summer interns of the New Right, the college students who have flocked to Washington to work for the growing network of private conservative lobbies, special interest groups and think tanks that sprang up in the past decade. Two years ago that coalition helped the Republicans elect a president, capture the Senate and led some to suggest that a major political and social realignment might be under way.
Although Washington has long hosted conservative interns, until the 1980 elections they were generally regarded as curiosities, out of step with both the mainstream of American youth and the policy-making process. These days, despite its often uneasy relationship with the Reagan administration, the New Right coalition has clearly achieved a foothold in Washington. Its leaders, many of whom are based in the Northern Virginia suburbs, can boast of credibility and access to the nation's leaders that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.
"Our interns are really good, clean-cut Christian kids and they're low-cost labor we might not get otherwise," said F. Andy Messing, 35, executive director of the Conservative Caucus. "We like to think we're helping mold conservative leaders for the future."
In order to bolster their gains and expand their influence on behalf of a political movement they regard as still in its infancy, New Right strategists are increasingly recognizing the importance of grooming a new cadre of leaders, skilled in the theory, and most important, the practice of politics. This summer a plethora of private conservative groups are sponsoring summer intern programs in Washington.
Thousands of interns come to Washington every year to work for members of Congress on Capitol Hill, vacation-strapped bureaucracies, private law firms or public interest lobbying groups. But officials at placement agencies say the students they now see are very career conscious and considerably more conservative than their predecessors, a change some attribute in part to the economy.
"This summer has definitely strengthened my own beliefs in conservative issues," said Lisa Guillermin, 18, a student at Virginia's Liberty Baptist College and intern at the Fairfax-based Conservative Caucus. "I now understand totally what our country needs for national defense."
Like Guillermin, many interns see themselves as participants in what one calls "the flowering of the new revolution." In 1980, for example, only 250 of the nation's 3,600 colleges and universities had College Republican clubs. Currently there are about 1,100 chapters, due in part to efforts by the GOP, which last fall dispatched organizing teams across the country. Similarly, membership in the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), regarded as an extremist joke on many campuses during the 1960s and '70s, has shot up 20 percent since Reagan's election.
"In the '60s and '70s nobody ever heard of conservatives on campus; they were laughed at," said Doug Hoye, 22, a student at Liberty Baptist College and summer intern at the Moral Majority's Capitol Hill office. "But now we're in Washington because we belong here. We're working within the system," said Hoye, an activist in the largest YAF chapter in the country.
"The '60s were an awful mess," said Ron Sisto, a 19-year-old intern for the Conservative Caucus. "The peace movement was basically do-your-own-thing. I guess the '80s are too, because people my age don't want to make money and see the government take half of it away from them." Sisto said he favors the "rugged individualism" espoused by Teddy Roosevelt, not the New Deal instituted by his cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"I see this summer as a real investment in developing management skills and understanding the full breadth of public policy," said Steve Edelen, 22, an intern at the Heritage Foundation, the nine-year-old conservative think tank that has risen to prominence with the Reagan administration.
Last year Edelen led a successful drive at the liberal Boulder campus of the University of Colorado to repeal a ban on the sale of Coors beer, which was imposed by students in 1969 to protest the brewing company's alleged antiunion activities. Edelen, who hopes to work in conservative causes after he graduates, says he is using the summer to "solidify my Washington contacts."
The new conservatives, says White House special assistant Morton C. Blackwell, take care of their own. "A young person with good conservative credentials will probably be able to find a job here after a few weeks of pounding the pavement," said Blackwell, 42, who headed the 1980 Youth for Reagan campaign and is the former editor of conservative strategist Richard A. Viguerie's New Right Report. "It used to be that if you were a liberal you could find yourself a slot in Washington fairly easily.
"These days there is evidence all over the administration of people--most of them not in very high-level jobs, of course--who graduated from college in 1982 and were launched in politics by working for Reagan in 1980. There are many, many more young people interested in careers working on the public policy process on our side than there were 10 years ago," said Blackwell, former director of the National College Republican Club.
"We've seen a huge drop in the number of students interested in working for organizations that promote social consciousness and political change," said Sturgis Robinson, placement director for the Washington Center for Learning Alternatives, an agency that helps 1,000 interns from 400 campuses find temporary jobs.
"Conservatives realize that their connection with young people means the life or death of the movement," Robinson said. "They know they've got to rebuild for the long term."
"Most of these kids have already licked envelopes so we've found that the typical Capitol Hill internships in congressional offices aren't that interesting," said Thomas Mangieri, 29, dean of the politics department at tiny unaccredited Christendom College, which sent eight students to Washington this summer. Located in a former hunting lodge in Front Royal owned by the AFL-CIO, Christendom was founded in 1976 by conservative Catholic activists.
"We want to show our kids the techniques for seeing that the right-to-life movement wins," said Mangieri, "and the action right now is at the PACS, the interest groups, the think tanks. When it comes to campaign techniques the conservative Republicans--who we generally happen to agree with--are the best in the business, the only game in town."
Intern programs sponsored by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), the American Conservative Union and the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress--patterned after citizens groups and organizations of the left--are designed to instruct a new generation in the ways of opposition research, direct mail, PACS, phone banks and media.
"We also help them to acclimatize to Washington," says Messing of the Conservative Caucus, whose interns are supported by stipends from the schools and money from parents. Many earn extra money--$4.50 an hour--manning telephone banks at night and on weekends.
"You know," said Messing, whose office is in a high-risebuilding near Tysons Corner, "some of these kids are right off the farm and suddenly they're in the big time. One minute they're talking to the pigs and another to people who are shaping the policy of the United States."
Moral Majority intern John Pyle, 20, hopes to be one of the policy makers. The youngest of five children of an affluent Lynchburg family, Pyle plans to join the Marines after graduation from Liberty Baptist College, then become a lawyer and eventually enter politics.
"What I'd really like to be is a senator from Virginia," said Pyle, "a combination of Phil Crane and Jack Kemp," the Republican congressmen he most admires. "I love Washington. I definitely want to work here for the rest of my life and be where the decisions of wide ramification are being made."
He has spent this summer as a lobbyist for the organization he calls "M-M," trying to persuade congressional staff members to get their bosses to support a constitutional amendment to restore prayer in the public schools.
Pyle receives no salary from Moral Majority, and plans to live this summer off $450 from his family. Like other Liberty Baptist interns he will get a $500 rebate on next year's tuition bill at the college founded by television evangelist Jerry Falwell. In order to earn two course credits he must write several papers and prepare a book report on Viguerie's "The New Right: We're Ready to Lead."
"One thing that has surprised me is that public officials are not all great Patrick Henry orators like I thought," said Pyle, "just very normal people who've taken their abilities and made the most of them. And they're not all from the Ivy League like I thought, which has given me more confidence, since I'm not."
Pyle and the other Liberty Baptist interns live in apartments in suburban Virginia, paid for by their college. They spend their evenings and weekends touring the city and searching out cheap restaurants.
"Everybody hits the bars in Georgetown but us," said Pyle, pointing out that Liberty students are forbidden to drink liquor. "But you can have a good time without drinking."
"We also see a lot of movies," said Hoye. Because students are forbidden to go to the movies while at Liberty, some try to catch up during the summer. "It's pretty much okay with them, as long as you use your own judgment. They leave it to your discretion whether you'll see 'Annie' or 'Misty Beethoven,' " he said.
At least once a week many of the New Right interns attend seminars and study groups. The Conservative Caucus sponsors a two-hour seminar every Thursday in a room off the Capitol rotunda.
Last week the interns sat around an oval polished wood table beneath a huge crystal chandelier and listened intently as U.S. Chamber of Commerce official Larry Butler talked about the economy. Butler quoted economist Milton Friedman, dismissed the "little, piddly $104 billion deficit," warned about the dangers of "continuing on the road to socialism" and excoriated "alphabet soup agencies that enforce tremendous regulation."
He was followed by Blackwell, the administration's liaison with the New Right. "In the old days conservatives used to just sit around and talk about how bad the liberals were," said Blackwell, as the interns adjusted their tape recorders and scribbled in notebooks. "But one of the characteristics of the New Right is that these organizations do concentrate on training people . . . They've begun to understand that they owe it to their philosophy to learn how to win."