A few years ago, when one Internet wag wanted to poke fun at President Bush's faith, the face from Salman's "Head of Christ" replaced the head of Michael Gerson in the photo that accompanies this post. (GetReligion did not create that image, but has used it with irony.) Carl M. Cannon has written a warm and lengthy profile of Gerson for National Journal (hat tip: Joel C. Rosenberg). The profile is the antidote to those blogs (like Farscape to My World) that see only hatred when evangelicals become involved with public policy.
One of the best remarks in the piece comes from Karl Rove: "The shorthand, political way to say it is that Mike is the one always wondering how we can achieve liberal goals with conservative means."
Another comes from one of the best-known liberals in media circles:
"You'll have a very hard time finding anyone to say anything bad about Mike Gerson," says Brookings Institution fellow E.J. Dionne, the liberal columnist who asked Gerson about gay marriage [during a Pew Forum seminar]. "He is one of the few people who escapes the political polarization of this city. The reason is that he's a thoughtful, sincere, incredibly decent person."
Gerson grew up in an Orthodox Presbyterian home, but today attends The Falls Church, an evangelical Episcopal congregation in the Virginia suburbs of D.C.
Two of Bush's stronger critics acknowledge Gerson's talents as a presidential speechwriter:
"George W. Bush's first week as president of the United States began with a speech that, taken as a whole and judged purely as a piece of writing, was shockingly good," wrote Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker, a liberal who helped draft Jimmy Carter's 1977 Inaugural Address. "It was by far the best Inaugural Address in 40 years; indeed, it was better than all but a tiny handful of all the inaugurals of all the presidents since the Republic was founded."
In 2001, Sorensen put it this way: "Bush with a Gerson text sounds a lot better than Bush on his own."
And there's this suggestion that, yes, the president actually has editorial ideas of his own:
Gerson says he has no problems with Hughes's editing his work. Asked if this were really true, Rove cackled. "Karen Hughes? That's the least of his problems! Have you seen the staffing sheet?" Rove held up a piece of paper, apparently relating to the impending Latvia speech, with a dozen names on it, including Cheney's, Rice's, and his own -- all of whom weigh in. Rove suggested one change, substituting the word "injustices" for Gerson's "crimes" in the reference to America's own imperfect past. Gerson accepted the change.
Then there's Bush himself, whose reputation among the speechwriters increased on the day in the Oval Office when he coined the phrase about freedom not being America's gift, but God's. "We didn't put that out, because no one would believe it," said one White House aide. "But I swear that's what happened."
This may not be enough to quell the fears of bloggers who see theocrats around every corner, but it's a welcome profile of a speechwriter who has found his calling.