With the passing of Senator Lautenberg it now falls on Governor Christie to choose a replacement. This will need to be someone who will bring unquestioned probity to the office, and it ought to be a person with the intellectual heft and policy know how to cast informed votes and then explain them to the people of the state. The public have had enough of politics as usual, the scandals and cynicism cumulate in our shared memory like DDT in the bone marrow. So let’s choose someone who is actually well qualified to hold office! We ought to select someone who would pass the scrutiny we ordinarily apply to Supreme Court justices, to corporate executives, or to tenured faculty.
My Princeton colleague Robert P. George would make a particularly shrewd choice. Professor George’s career has thus far spanned academia, politics, and policy. After he graduated from Swarthmore he earned a law degree from Harvard and a D Phil from Oxford. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and earned tenure at Princeton, where he has taught for the past two decades. None of this has interfered with his commitment to public policy — when President Clinton tried to bypass Congress by heading the U.S. Civil Rights Commission with a series of recess appointments to avoid having to get the commission’s head confirmed by the legislature, George successfully brought suit. Here at Princeton he has almost singlehandedly created the James Madison Program, a center that promotes the values of the American Founding, while at the same time he has established himself as one of the world’s leading Catholic intellectuals, and a key proponent of the natural law. Appointed to President Bush’s blue-ribbon panel on stem-cell research, George is an outspoken defender of the life of the unborn. At age 57 Robert George has already accomplished more than we would expect two or three ambitious people to achieve in their combined lifetimes.
New Jersey deserves a senator who has the courage to act on his principles and the eloquence to defend and explain them. For too long we have accepted the notion that representative politics means having mediocre people representing us. But the median voter doesn’t want or deserve to have herself as her senator any more than she would want herself as her brain surgeon or as the architect of the bridge she commutes across every day. Like the rest of us the median voter wants the best person for each job, and in the case of the Senate this means someone whose words and deeds will defend her ideals and reach for her aspirations, not someone whose vices mawkishly imitate her foibles.
If we accept that Governor Christie should seek the best person to fill a possible Senate vacancy, the case for Robert George is compelling. He is already engaged in the central political debates of our age, he has been a valiant defender of the sanctity of human life, he takes a balanced conservative view of fiscal issues and of foreign policy, and he has the energy and charisma to communicate his ideas, and to follow through on his promise.
If Governor Christie finds himself with a Senate seat to fill, we should encourage him to choose someone with the stature and acumen of Robert George.
— John Londregan is a professor of politics at Princeton.