George discusses importance of election for American politics
Politics professor Robert George highlighted “the importance of this upcoming election” as an indicator of the direction of both American politics and the future of America in a conversation Friday with Ramesh Ponnuru ’95, senior editor at the National Review and columnist for Bloomberg View.
In their conversation, George and Ponnuru discussed a wide range of issues, from the Obama administration to religion to the prevalence of liberalism on college campuses.
George, who knew Ponnuru when he was a student at Princeton, engaged with his former student on whether policy decisions are driven by politics as opposed to personal conviction. Honing in on the Obama administration, George questioned whether President Barack Obama's decisions are due to political calculations or personal conviction.
In response, Ponnuru replied that he thought that this administration is surprisingly bad at politics.
“Obama never had to cultivate a sense of playing swing voters because the economic issue broke out at perfect timing,” Ponnuru explained. “Obama has a peculiar disconnection, and he is among a circle of sycophants who have almost as high of an opinion about him as he does of himself.”
Given a choice between swaying swing voters or increasing the turnout of base voters, the Obama administration always aims for increasing the base, Ponnuru said. George further pressed the issue, using gay marriage as an example. George said that Obama, who was an opponent of same-sex marriage, suddenly changed positions right after voters passed a referendum that would define marriage as the union between a man and woman in the state of North Carolina, where Obama has and continues to need key support in 2012, George explained.
As the conversation between George and Ponnuru winded down, the ideas at play returned to the upcoming elections, as Ponnuru stated his belief that “the Democratic nominee in 2016 will be a supporter of same-sex marriage.”
Ponnuru made clear his belief that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney should pick someone he is personally comfortable with as his running mate. “I would not make this a basis of a particular state, nor would I make it something to appeal to an evangelical group. I think that he should just pick a solid citizen,” Ponnuru noted. “Tim Pawlenty is an example of a classic boring white guy, but still someone Romney is very comfortable with.”
Nevertheless, the conversation was not all focused on the political realm, as one audience member asked about the pervading sense of liberalism on college campuses and at Princeton.
Here, George took a moment to reflect on his path of academic politics that he chose right out of graduate school. “I survived the life of academic politics by living by a motto: Forgive but retaliate,” George noted lightheartedly. “I try to always play offense and never play defense.” On a more serious note, George noted how people sometimes underestimate how many fair-minded liberals there are in colleges.
In terms of how he approached his status as a conservative in a liberal atmosphere, George stated that he was “out of the closet” right from the start. He said he was fortunate to have University support and the James Madison Program, which he helped create.
In the classroom, George said he tries very hard to be neutral so that if someone walked into the class without knowing who the professor was, that person would not be able to tell which way he leaned politically. George further highlighted the “wonderful experience” he had co-teaching a course with his liberal colleague, African American Studies professor emeritus Cornel West GS ’80.
Following up, Ponnuru jokingly explained that one of his greatest accomplishments during his time at Princeton was a letter-writing campaign he organized to help George get tenure.
The conversation between George and Ponnuru, “American Politics and America's Future: Are We at a Crossroads?” was held in Frist Campus Center and was sponsored by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.
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