It is hard to determine when Barack Obama's honeymoon with America ended, but for the past six months — since the anniversary of his election in November 2008 — his political position has steadily worsened. His recent signing into law of the Healthcare Bill has overcome the charge of political impotency but at great cost. It will have implications for his capacity to manage the general budget, but is also deeply unpopular in constituencies where Democrats have small majorities. It is only by promising various compensations in the way of presidential appointments that some Representatives were persuaded to sacrifice their chances in the November Congressional elections by voting for the Bill.
Forget fogeyishness: Robert George is au fait with today's IT culture
Meanwhile, though scarred, the Republicans see the prospect of electoral recovery and have already scored notable victories in winning the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia, as well as one of the Senatorships in Massachusetts. Although it is only 18 months since the Republicans lost the presidency, and they are in the minority in both houses of Congress, there is a growing sense that Obama may be a one-term occupant of the White House. Certainly, there is growing popular opposition to the President. One poll reported that only 50 per cent of voters said they preferred Obama to George W. Bush, with 44 per cent saying they would rather have the latter back as President. The seven polls conducted between late March and early April show overall disapproval levels ranging from 41 per cent to 53 per cent with the averages being 46.1 per cent approving and 47.3 per cent disapproving (in contrast to averages of 65 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively at the inauguration).
This being so, the Republicans are still struggling to find national leadership both in Congress and among state Governors. While social conservatism does not lack prominent voices, the most articulate and effective seem to be coming from outside the world of professional politicians, a matt
er of some discomfort to party managers. Together with familiar talk radio "shock jocks" and the new Tea Party activists, both of whom are a liability as well as an asset, is a newly prominent line of well-educated commentators and academics, many of them religious, though not in the manner popularly associated with the Evangelical Right.
Among the leading figures of this group is Robert George. Swarthmore, Harvard and Oxford educated, George occupies a distinguished position at Princeton, holding the McCormick Chair of Jurisprudence that was occupied in earlier times by Woodrow Wilson, who went on to be President of the University, Governor of New Jersey, two-term US President and Nobel laureate. Very unusually for that traditionally Waspish environment, George is an orthodox Roman Catholic.
Well-known as a scholar, lawyer and public commentator, he has acquired a new status as a leader of American intellectual conservatism, the heir to William F. Buckley Jr, Richard John Neuhaus, Irving Kristol, and Ralph McInerny, who have all died in the past two years. Indeed, if the verdict of a major profile recently published in the New York Times Magazine is to be believed, George is the leading American voice of thoughtful Christian conservatism. But any images of eccentricity or fogeyishness would be out of place: "Robby" George is youthful, stylishly dressed and fully up-to-speed with the electronic information culture.
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