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Michael Gerson Moves On

President Bush’s speechwriter for most of his first term and a portion of his second—Wall Street Journal man William McGurn took over as head of the speech shop in the middle of last year—was Michael Gerson, a quiet evangelical Christian with a humanitarian bent and a quill which somehow grew ten sizes on September 11, 2001. He has just announced that he’s leaving the White House in a few weeks:

Gerson said in an interview that he has been talking with Bush for many months about leaving for writing and other opportunities but waited until the White House political situation stabilized somewhat. “It seemed like a good time,” he said. “Things are back on track a little. Some of the things I care about are on a good trajectory.”
Although Michael Gerson was no longer in charge of Bush’s major speeches, his loss will probably be felt greatly in the White House. So much turns on how things are put, and what arguments are made, that a strong chief speechwriter like Gerson—and this is very much the case in the Bush administration—becomes a central policy figure. Axis of Evil? Gerson. The soft bigotry of low expectations? Gerson.

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

Well, that’s the Bush doctrine, and it’ll go down in history as the Bush doctrine. But that, too, is Gerson. His policy pet, though, was AIDS and Africa. Here is how a February New Yorker profile described one meeting:

Gerson ‘s role as protector of €œcompassionate conservatism € was evident during a meeting in the first term with Bush and his advisers, who were discussing a proposal to spend fifteen billion dollars to combat AIDS in Africa. According to Dan Bartlett, Bush went around the room and then asked, €œWhat do you think, Gerson? € ( €œThe President just calls him Gerson, € Joshua Bolten, the White House budget chief, told me. €œMike isn ‘t the sort of guy who lends himself to silly nicknames. €) Bartlett said that Gerson answered with typical bluntness: €œThe bottom line is that we ‘re the richest nation in history, and history will judge us severely if we don ‘t do this. € The room went quiet. Then Bush said, €œThat ‘s Gerson being Gerson. € Although the program ‘s implementation has been sclerotic and not without controversy (critics have faulted it for emphasizing abstinence over condom use), the Administration now spends far more each year to combat AIDS in Africa than the Clinton Administration did.
I imagine Michael Gerson will be greatly missed.

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