Gerson Leaves

I’ve often linked to Bush’s speeches here; it is only appropriate to link to the writer’s departure.

Jay Leno cracked: “Another Bush team member is stepping down. This time it’s long time speechwriter, a guy named Michael Gerson. He was President Bush’s speechwriter for seven years. Isn’t that amazing? President Bush had a speechwriter?”

Well, yeah. But this resignation will, indeed, be a loss.

“He’s one of the few people who is irreplaceable,” Bolten said. “He’s a policy provoker, a grand strategist and a conscience who in many cases has not only articulated but reflected the president’s heart.”

Gerson’s speeches created memes that defined Bush’s presidency, if not always repeated & analyzed in newspapers the next day. The images & vision may have seemed archaic, certainly foreign to many, who often seemed unclear about some of the allusions (as was I, with a weaker Biblical background). However, Bush’s own vision seemed aligned with those speeches, even if their fluidity & complexity were at odds with his own idiolect, his own sometimes inarticulate speech.

Bush’s sense of personal informality and institutional formality was reinforced by the clear differences in those two levels: the formal speeches resonated in time and space; his natural informal speech was full of nicknames, joviality & familiarity. Even before he was elected he saw as distinctly different the respect due him as George Bush & that due the presidency. But the speeches were Gerson’s words & we are likely to remember the apparently shared vision intrinsic to both. Gerson

was a formulator of the Bush doctrine making the spread of democracy the fundamental goal of U.S. foreign policy, a policy hailed as revolutionary by some and criticized as unrealistic by others.

My husband has always complained that I need to read about something to appreciate it (prompted by his own dislike of the rather campy Texas of Texas Monthly). Well, that may be true. But I doubt that I was the only one who thought Bush was better understood through Gerson’s words coming out of Bush’s mouth. Gerson also gave punch to the pragmatic wisdom that seemed true of Bush’s approach to politics. One of my favorites is the glistening truth – and implied imperative to challenge others – of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

We will be sorry now and probably sorrier at the next major speech by Bush that Gerson is leaving. I’m not myself Evangelical, but can appreciate the vision that he instilled in those speeches – ones that echo so many of the historical speeches of our country. And that generally seem less Evangelical than written with a broader horizon of time and geography than most contemporary political speech.

Obviously the distinction between the man & the office is one our elected and term limited presidency encourages – and that is for the good. I was reminded of a book I haven’t heard people talk of for forty years (when I stopped seeing many medievalists). It was The King’s Two Bodies by Ernst Kantorowicz, which describes the importance of that distinction even in medieval kingship. But I remember the sense of duality that seemed so important then and still does, in quite different ways, now.

2 thoughts on “Gerson Leaves”

  1. “…the sense of duality…” The American president has a particularly difficult job. He is both head of state and head of government — i.e. the symbolic and ritual leader, as well as the practical manager of the executive function. These roles are divided in almost every other country. The British have a monarch for the first and a prime minister for the second, for example. You can go down the list and see which presidents played which roles well or badly. Bush II has not been strong in either role, in my opinion, but he does at least seem to be aware of the distinction.

  2. The King’s Two Bodies is a great book! I’m really glad you mentioned it.

    Once again, you can see where the seed of modern constitutionalism can be found in medieval constitutionalism. And that much of the genius of the Anglosphere lay in our ability to evolve and adapt that constitutionalism rather than burning the structure down periodically and trying to design a rational society from scratch.

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