Anti-Elite Hackery and the Bush Administration

One of the latest examples adduced of President Bush’s tendency to appoint ideologically agreeable hacks rather than traditionally-qualified people to the administration has been the revelation that 150 graduates of Pat Robertson’s Regent University are among their ranks, with Monica Goodling the most (in)famous.

While Paul Krugman and other reliable anti-Bush pundits have been leading the charge, even Jonah Goldberg finds this troubling. He deserves Line of the Day honors for this backhanded defense of Goodling: “She may be brilliant, I’ve just seen no evidence for it.”

Mickey Kaus is among the lone defenders of the administration here, arguing that this is just elitist, anti-Christian bias on the part of the pundit class. Because “there’s always been a market for anti-hick editorializing in the New York Times, especially anti-Southern-hick editorializing,” there’s not even any pressure to demonstrate that Goodling and her Regent cohorts are actually less qualified in any way that matters than appointees to similar positions in previous administrations.

That’s actually a fair point and one not easily rebuttable, given that we don’t have handy dandy metrics at the ready. Still, a conservative Goldberg emailer echoes the sentiments of many:

Call me an elitist, but if we are going to have devout christians in the Justice department, I would prefer they went to Chicago or Stanford Law. I think there is something to be said about high LSAT scores and going to one of the best schools in the country. And I have never bought the canard that there are no conservatives at the best law schools. Robert, Alito, Scalia?

I’m sympathetic to both sides on this one, in that I’ve got a PhD and many of the academic biases that come with that but have my degrees from universities without an elite national reputation. Certainly, the possession of a degree from Harvard is not a prima facie case of being smarter and more capable of one with a degree from Purdue or Iowa State. On the other hand, it strikes me as highly unlikely that a competitive process would result in 150 graduates of Regent coming out on top, even factoring in the a preference for people that broadly shared the president’s ideological and spiritual outlook. There are simply too many smart, religious conservatives out there with more prestigious credentials.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. of Regent coming out on top, even factoring in the a preference for people that broadly shared the president’s ideological and spiritual outlook. There are simply too many smart, religious conservatives out there with more prestigious credentials. Share This [IMG ] [IMG]

  2. Triumph says:

    I dont know about the law school at Regent, but after Robertson’s Regent University football team crushed Falwell’s Liberty University in last year’s Domino’s Pizza Bible Bowl, I am a full-fledged Regent fan.

  3. John Burgess says:

    I agree that there are arguments to be made on both sides of the issue.

    I’d note, though, a further factor to be kept in mind: the real or perceived unwelcome that the religiously devout feel at certain elite universities. This is exacerbated by the fact that certain people of religious persuasion are not going to be tempted to attend schools, no matter their reputation/quality in cities perceived to be dens of iniquity.

    This can be self-inflicted damage due to ‘anti-elitism’ or a view toward saving one’s soul, but it will produce a variable that needs to be factored out.

  4. just me says:

    I think it is elitest to declare somebody automatically unqualified simply because of where their degree came from.

    Especially given that law students from any law school must pass the same bar exam.

    I think declaring people unqualified because they have law degrees from Regent is wrong without proof, but wondering why 150 graduates found employment is worth asking, but I am uncomfortable declaring people unqualified based on where their degrees come from-I think that does lead to elitism, and it could result in some very qualified and capable people being passed over, because their degrees are deemed not good enough.

  5. uh_clem says:

    The problem with a degree from Regent is not that it’s a second- or third- tier school like Iowa State or Perdue, it’s that a student at Regent is unlikely to encounter many people with a differing world view let alone engage in vigorous debate with them. This insularity in and of itself makes for a mediocre legal education. And a tendency towards engaging in “goupthink”.

  6. M1EK says:

    Purdue and Iowa State are an order of magnitude closer to Harvard and Yale than Regent is to Purdue and Iowa State.

  7. Matt T says:

    1.) What’s wrong with being elitist when it comes to hiring decisions? Wouldn’t an employer, especially one charged with something as important as upholding the Constitution, be negligent of they WEREN’T somewhat elitist in their hiring practices? Getting the best, most-qualified candidates might help the DOJ avoid situations like attorney-gate.

    2.) There’s something that’s just plain unpalatable about the fact that one’s religious affiliation is now highly correlated with the likelihood of landing a position in a federal agency. If this doesn’t cut straight to the heart of the Establishment Clause then I don’t know what does.

  8. James Joyner says:

    What’s wrong with being elitist

    If it’s elitism of pedigree, it’s somewhat problematic because it excludes highly competent candidates without degrees from those institutions.

    religious affiliation is now highly correlated with the likelihood of landing a position in a federal agency

    Well, only at the appointee level. It simply doesn’t come up in the civil service hiring system. One presumes that the Clinton administration hired very few from Regents, Liberty, and the like. And one can’t blame them for taking the obvious signaling on face value.

  9. djneylon says:

    it might also be worth considering the Regent is very active in on-line education and reaches out to adults who are returning to school. As to diversity of classmates being some wonderful thing, I think that is a figment of imagination of “liberals” who would have us believe that being surrounded by diversity somehow makes us better people. I would rather think that a strong set of moral values is more important than the racial/sexual/ethnic mix of the school you attended. I also feel this is yet another example of anti-Christian bias (i.e., they went to a Christian school, what can they know?)

  10. The 150 graduates figure is impressive, but I’d really like to see the denominator: are we talking about out of 3674 executive-branch political appointees (a figure I just got from Congress and its Members) or a more select group? Are we talking 150 JDs or mostly BA/BS with a smattering of higher degrees?

    That said, if any school–even an elite one–accounts for 5% of political appointees that seems rather high, given that there are hundreds of accredited law schools in America (and thousands of undergraduate institutions). And there are strong philosophical arguments for having a bureaucracy staffed and headed by more than a few select universities (which is one of the fundamental problems of continental governments, most notably that of France).

  11. jeff b says:

    There is empirical evidence that Regent is a below-average institution. It’s obvious why Clinton would not have appointed many Regent graduates: their JD program was not fully ABA-approved until 1996. In 2005 only 3 in 5 of their candidates passed the Virginia bar, whereas candidates overall passed at a rate of 3 in 4. So although it’s completely true that a stellar candidate may have gone through Regent, it’s also true that if you select 150 Regent law school grads, you have assured yourself of hiring a below-average bunch of lawyers.

    By the way, 150 represents two entire classes of Regent grads who pass the bar, meaning that the Bush administration is by far the largest employer of Regent alumni. Which, combined with the fact that the school has only been accredited for 10 years, means that these people are coming into the Department of Justice with essentially zero experience.

  12. Steve Verdon says:

    jeff b’s comments pretty much sum up the problem. Even if we were to look at all the positions as Chris suggests, it still wouldn’t detract from the very real possibility that Regent University grads are getting through the selection process at a pretty amazing rate. There aren’t large numbers other people coming from other much higher ranked schools that match up to the current administrations political ideology? That has nearly broken my bogosity meter.

  13. Triumph says:

    If it’s elitism of pedigree, it’s somewhat problematic because it excludes highly competent candidates without degrees from those institutions.

    Listen, James, enough of the anti-Bush rhetoric, please!

  14. superdestroyer says:

    Chris,

    Not all of the 3,000 plus would be considered political appointees. Most of them are actually schedule C employees which is a form of political patronage. No one expects the patronage jobs to be elite. They are usually the idiot children of big donors (Monica Lewinsky, anyone?).

  15. Christopher says:

    Wow, James, you’ve got a PhD? I could never have “adduced” that except that you use such big, obscure words in relating your opinions to us. Like the word “Adduced”.

    And you suffer academic biases from having a PhD? I have to think it is more from using silly words. Did you get beat up a lot in grade school? High school? College?

    From now on I will try and do a better job of “adducing” things about the Bush administration, even though I don’t have a PhD.

  16. Steve Verdon says:

    Hmmm, I’m thinking somebody as ADE (Advanced Degree Envy).

  17. James Joyner says:

    big, obscure words in relating your opinions to us. Like the word “Adduced”.

    If my use of two syllable words is too much for you, I apologize. Or, should I say, I’m sorry. Um, my bad.

  18. Christopher says:

    I must have touched a nerve. Now it takes two OTB guys to gang up on me?

  19. Steve Verdon says:

    Yeah, that’s James and me…a couple of blog bullies. Now get out of here before we kick your ass.

  20. Bandit says:

    it’s that a student at Regent is unlikely to encounter many people with a differing world view let alone engage in vigorous debate with them. This insularity in and of itself makes for a mediocre legal education. And a tendency towards engaging in “goupthink”.

    Wow – maybe you need to make a visit to Harvard Square if you want to see some “goupthink”.

  21. Bithead says:

    One of the latest examples adduced of President Bush’s tendency to appoint ideologically agreeable hacks rather than traditionally-qualified people to the administration …

    I personally question the value of “traditionally-qualified people”, who have so mis served and mis-used their positions in the recent past.

  22. albee says:

    FDR brought tons of New Yorkers to Washington. JFK brought the Ivy League to Washington. Jimmy Doofus brought unqualified people to Washington. I believe presidents select people in the image of their agenda.

    Why do people insist on criticizing Bush over anything regardless of the importance of the issue? This issue carries all the import of a nocturnal emission.