Princeton Tilts Right
The Madison Program has made its presence felt beyond conservative circles through the often provocative lectures George convenes. Past events include "Contemporary Politics of Immigration in the United States," which, besides various academic experts on the topic, featured white nationalist author Peter Brimelow. Then there was "Lawrence v. Texas: The Worst Supreme Court Decision in History?" and most recently, "The Conservative Movement: Its Past, Present and Future," which George organized with Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School.
During the "Conservative Movement" conference, William Bennett touted his civil rights credentials while denouncing Democrats for being "against America." Seated beside George's mentor, James Kurth, neoconservative pundit Frank Gaffney held forth that "the metastasized danger we face today" from terrorism should be attributed to George Bush Sr. and the "left-wing" Bill Clinton. Gaffney also took time to promote his new anthology, War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World, in which an afterword states, "No more praise for those who dissent. When they ask, 'Wouldn't you fight for my right to dissent?' I have to answer, 'Not right now.'"
The most startling surprise of the conference came when a mystery guest, Bush's political "architect," Karl Rove, signed in for a question-and-answer session. George's invitation to Rove might have been considered ironic in light of George's hostile attitude when President Bill Clinton was invited to speak at a 2000 Princeton conference on the Progressive Era and its Presidents (including former president of Princeton Woodrow Wilson). After rejecting an invitation to participate, George sent the Wall Street Journal an editorial he had written that, he told the Journal, the conference's planners had bullied the Daily Princetonian into spiking. Then he took his case to the conservative group Accuracy in Academia, asking of Clinton's visit, "Now what kind of a message does it send to have somebody with that record of mendacity coming in to be celebrated in an academic conference? What's it say about the standards of truthfulness in academia?"
But George was enthused when the possibility of Rove's visit arose. Rove's appearance was kept a surprise to all in attendance, pre-empting any protests his presence might have spawned. Throughout his talk Secret Service agents were posted at discreet positions in the lecture hall and C-SPAN's cameras were not allowed to film. According to George, Rove defended the Bush Administration's conservative credentials against a series of pointed questions about federal spending and what one attendee called "the abandonment of limited government principles." One of the few journalists in attendance--and the only self-identified liberal who spoke at the conference--Rick Perlstein, author of a pathbreaking book on Barry Goldwater, offered an account for the Huffington Post blog, in which he described how Rove "defended his conservative purity by boasting of how he pressured a reluctant Republican into voting for a free trade bill ('That sombitch was cryin!')."
While conservatives bemoan the betrayal of their principles in spite of their majority status in every branch of government, they take heart from George's project at Princeton. The James Madison Program has come a long way since 2001, when George disparaged Princeton as a place dominated by "thinned-out new-age spiritualities and vague references to ideals that are beyond the material, but without any substance or rootedness in Christianity, in the Hebraic tradition, even in the classical tradition." Princeton capitulated to George's attack on its own faculty, his colleagues--thinking, perhaps, that by turning the other cheek and letting the attack stand, the university would enhance its image as tolerant.
Today, George's attitude seems to have softened. His stable of donors is steadily growing--for the first time, it includes the venerable Scaife Foundation. And as the Madison Program expands its breadth on campus, those members of Princeton's faculty and administration George calls "honorable liberals" like what they see.
"I'm not anguished about the environment or the climate," George said. "I'm cheerful. Heck, I can't complain about the way I've been treated by Princeton."