Princeton Tilts Right
The man who spearheads the right's new campus strategy traveled an unlikely route to his destiny. George was raised in a family of New Deal Democrats living in the coal-mining town of Morgantown, West Virginia. As an idealistic high school senior in 1972, he volunteered for George McGovern's presidential campaign. His politics took a sharp right turn, however, when he arrived at Swarthmore College and came under the influence of political science professor James Kurth, a self-described former "borderline Marxist" turned conservative evangelical. "He urged us to question the campus orthodoxy and the herd mentality of faculty and students," George told the Princeton Alumni Weekly about his mentor.
George went on to Harvard Law School, then Oxford, where he earned a doctorate in philosophy and finally wound up at Princeton, where he was given tenure in its politics department in 1993. Several years later, George was awarded the prestigious McCormick Professorship of Jurisprudence originally held by Woodrow Wilson.
But success in the academic world has not quelled George's suspicion that liberal bias lurks behind the door of every faculty lounge, ready to snuff out any sign of conservative politics. "The only way I made it is that there were honorable liberals prepared to support me," George told me. "But today, the hegemonic point of view is the liberal point of view on universities. So if you have a conservative student, I'm thinking it would be great to have him as a professor at Williams or Yale, or Oklahoma, but look what he faces. If they find out he's pro-life or against same-sex marriage, he might be cut off, or not be able to get through graduate school." When I asked George if he had firsthand knowledge of conservative students being "cut off" by liberal discrimination, he said he did not.
George's rise through the ranks of academia coincided with his emergence as a central figure among a rising cohort of right-wing Catholic political leaders. Besides George, significant members of this generation are Deal Hudson, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Amherst jurisprudence professor Hadley Arkes (who is reportedly Jewish, though he travels almost exclusively in Catholic right political and intellectual circles).
With the ascendancy of George W. Bush, the Catholic right was invested with unprecedented power. During the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, one of Bush's operatives, former RNC chief and chief Enron lobbyist Ed Gillespie, also a right-wing Catholic, tapped George and Hudson to teach Bush how to "speak Catholic," as Commonweal magazine put it. The relationship was formalized when the RNC hired Hudson, also a regular adviser to Karl Rove, as its Catholic Outreach director. Hudson successfully pressed some conservative Catholic bishops to pledge to deny communion to John Kerry, one of the most effective tactics deployed in the presidential campaign. (Hudson fell out of favor with the White House at the height of the 2004 campaign when the National Catholic Reporter revealed that his sexual relationship with a female student had cost him his professorship at Fordham University ten years before. Right before the story broke, he resigned his RNC post.)
Among George's Catholic right allies, Arkes is the one he is probably closest to. He and Arkes helped the Bush White House promote nominees to the Supreme Court and provided Santorum with advice on opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. Though Arkes has advised Santorum to whittle away incrementally at abortion rights through legislation like the so-called "partial-birth" abortion ban, his philosophical opposition to abortion is absolute, to the point that he has appeared to condone murder. In 1994, amid a spate of violent attacks against women's health clinics, Arkes participated in a symposium called "Killing Abortionists" where he compared antiabortion activist Paul Hill's assassination of Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard to Jews killing "guards and executioners on their way to work in Auschwitz."
Speaking at the same symposium, George pledged he would continue "respecting the rights of conscience of my fellow citizens who believe that the killing of abortionists is sometimes a tragic necessity--not a good, but a lesser evil." Nine years later George's James Madison Program awarded Arkes a fellowship along with a $25,000 grant.