Media Finally Discovers Army of Pat Robertson Acolytes in Bush Administration
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Monica Goodling on her Regent University homepage: "If I only had two seconds to tell you why I'm here, I'd have to say this: I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. Tough assignment, but, worth a try."
When Monica Goodling's name erupted into the news last week, the mainstream press discovered suddenly that Pat Robertson's Regent University exists. Not only that, the press learned that it has made a deep footprint in George W. Bush's Washington.
Since Robertson's failed presidential campaign, coverage of him has largely focused on his mercurial and bizarre personality. He seemed only to appear in the news when one of his many entertainingly outrageous gaffes or false prophecies earned publicity. While Robertson's hysterical episodes deserved all the coverage they generated, with a few notable exceptions, the mainstream press habitually ignored his political machinations. Robertson and his cadres exploited this lack of scrutiny to quietly erect a sophisticated and far-reaching political network that today propells the Christian right's ongoing march through the institutions.
The right has exploited the mainstream press's ignorance about Robertson to avoid weathering the blowback from his most embarassing gaffes. Case in point: Two years ago, after Robertson called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, Fox News' Brit Hume introduced what would become a central talking point for spinning the controversy. On the August 23, 2005 episode of Fox News' Special Report, Hume declared, "The televangelist Pat Robertson's political influence may have been declining since he came in second in the Iowa Republican caucuses 17 years ago. And he may have no clout with the Bush administration."
Morton Kondracke echoed Hume, exclaiming that "Pat Robertson's day has long since passed."
Predictably, the right's spin seeped into the mainstream press. The day after Hume and Kondracke's exchange, Knight Ridder asserted that Robertson's influence "has waned." As evidence, the news service quoted one "leader" of the "evangelical movement" claiming, "He's an old man and there's a group of old women and old men who watch him." Old men can't be influential, don't you know?
The usually sagacious John Green, a University of Akron professor who has emerged as the go-to guy for virtually any reporter covering the Christian right, swooped in to join the parrot jungle chirping about Robertson's death knell. In an interview with the National Review's Byron York (who recently blew his wad trying to discredit the jury that convicted Scooter Libby), Green concluded that while Robertson is "certainly a consequential figure," he is "more in tune with what was happening with evangelicals 20 or 30 years ago" than his contemporaries.
But in the wake of Goodling's hotly publicized resignation, the mainstream press suddenly -- and correctly -- decided to judge Robertson by the fruits he has borne. In the Washington Post-owned Slate Magazine, Dahlia Lithwick published a penetrating look at "How Pat Robertson's law school is changing America." Lithwick notes that as early as 1997, when Goodling was enrolled at Regent and working as a spokesperson for the school's Office of Government, she was ducking pointed questions from reporters.
The Boston Globe also ran a insightful look at Regent Law's impact on public policy. The Globe cited (as I did days earlier right here) Kay Coles James as the key link between Regent and the Bush White House. The Globe's Charlie Savage wrote, "In 2001, the Bush administration picked the dean of Regent's government school, Kay Coles James, to be the director of the Office of Personnel Management -- essentially the head of human resources for the executive branch. The doors of opportunity for government jobs were thrown open to Regent alumni."
The sudden interest in Robertson's political network spread to the L.A. Times on April 6 when it profiled Christian Broadcasting Network's star political reporter and blogger, David Brody. The Times correctly notes that despite his affiliation with the supposedly discredited reverend, Brody has "developed a real web base among followers of the presidential races." Indeed, Brody's blog has become a critical window into evangelical opinion on candidates from both parties. In the process, Brody has lent newfound credibility to Robertson's flagship news network.
The Christian right is far more than a pantheon of charismatic backlashers with automatonic followers of "old men and women." It is also a sophicated political operation with a coherent long-term strategy. Goodling may be out of a job, but thousands of capable Christian right cadres remain, waging the culture war from inside the White House, federal agencies and Republican congressional offices. Together they will continue to inflame conflicts that were previously unimaginable.
Anyone insisting in spite of continuously mounting evidence that the Christian right is going to simply shrink into oblivion because the Democrats control Congress, or because evangelical leaders are prone to scandal, should learn from Goodling's example and take the fifth.
Monica Goodling, a previously unknown Justice Department official who served as liaison to the White House, has become a key figure in the Attorneygate scandal. When newly released emails revealed the prominent role Goodling played in engineering the firing of seven US Attorneys, Goodling pled the Fifth Amendment, refusing to testify under oath.
Josh Marshall writes that Goodling may be "afraid of indictment for perjury because she has to go up to Congress and testify under oath before the White House has decided what its story is."
Goodling's involvement in Attorneygate is not the only aspect of her role in the Bush administration that bears examination. Her membership in a cadre of 150 graduates of Pat Robertson's Regent University currently serving in the administration is another, equally revealing component of the White House's political program.
Goodling earned her law degree from Regent, an institution founded by Robertson "to produce Christian leaders who will make a difference, who will change the world." Helping to purge politically disloyal federal prosecutors is just one way Goodling has helped fulfill Robertson's revolutionary goals.
Regent has assiduously cultivated close ties to the administration and its Republican outriders. Gonzales's predecessor, John Ashcroft, is currently cooling his heels at Regent as the school's "Distinguished Professor of Law and Government." Christian right super-lawyer Jay Sekulow, who also teaches at Regent and shares a Washington office with Ashcroft, participated in regular briefings with the White House on court appointments. In 1998, he leased a private jet through Regent to fly Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to speak at the school's 20th anniversary (Though Sekulow regularly argues cases before the Supreme Court, he apparently did not view hobnobbing with Scalia as an ethical breach).
When the Bush administration came into power, it looked to Regent for a reliable pool of well-groomed Republican ideologues eager to wage the culture war from the inside. The former dean of Regent's Robertson School of Government, Kay Coles James, was promptly installed as the Director of the Office of Personnel Management.
According to her bio, from 2001 to 2005, James was "President Bush's principal advisor in matters of personnel administration for the 1.8 million members of the Federal civil service." In that role, James rolled back the power of unions in the federal sector. Now that she's out of government, James is back among her Christian right allies, appearing frequently as a guest on James Dobson's Focus on the Family radio show.
Another Regent figure who impacted White House policy is Jim David, the current Assistant Dean for Administration in the Robertson School of Government. David was inserted in the Justice Department in 2003 as yet another sop to the Christian right; he served as deputy director of the department's Task Force for the Faith-Based & Community Initiative.
Since leaving the DoJ, David has spent a considerable portion of his spare time writing opinion pieces that appear on Regent's website. One of his most noteable screeds, penned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, described a bright spot in the destruction of New Orleans. "We do not grieve, however, for the flooded and destroyed sex clubs that filled men with lust and degraded women," David wrote. "We do not miss the casinos that preyed upon individuals whose lack of self-control deprived families of needed food and shelter. We do not lament the destruction of voodoo stores prevalent in New Orleans before the flood."
At Regent, Goodling was drilled in the importance of unflinching loyalty to the Republican program. Once in the Justice Department, she proved an able cog in the Bush administration's political machine, meeting with Republican activists in 2006 to help plot the firing of New Mexico's prestigious US Attorney David Iglesias, a fellow Republican who "chafed" against administration initiatives.
But as scrutiny of her actions intensifies, the evangelical Goodling must resort to the 5th Amendment -- man's law -- to avoid breaking the biblical commandment against lying. Only the goodly and godly Pat Robertson could have prepared her to make such a decision.