'The Danger for America Is Not Theocracy'
Bush's reclusive, evangelical speechwriter says religion is part of our culture and we shouldn't be afraid to talk about it.The Ethics and Public Policy Center hosted its semi-annual conference on religion and public life with some of the nation's leading journalists in December 2004 at the Pier House in Key West, Florida. Michael Gerson, speechwriter and policy advisor to President Bush spoke on Bush's use of religious rhetoric.
I really haven't done much of this kind of speaking, so I thought I'd ease into it by talking about the non-controversial topic of religion in politics with a bunch of journalists. And I took this invitation before the election, and it's just impossible to imagine how grim this event would have been if we had lost. Everyone would be - not everyone, but a certain number of people would have said we lost because the president talked like Billy Sunday, just as there are some people now that think he won because he talks like Billy Sunday, and I don't think either of those are accurate.
The election was divisive; it was divisive in my own family. My own little boy - my six-year-old, Nicholas - announced to me in the car not long before the election that he liked John Kerry for president. And I asked him why, and he said, "So you can be home on weekends," which is tough.
My nine-year-old, who is a little more practical, said, "But how would we eat?" (Laughter.) And I said, "I think I can get a job. I might go to a think tank." And he said, "Well, what's a think tank?" And I said, "Well, it's people who read and speak, and have meetings and things," and Bucky - and this is true - said, "You mean they do nothing?"
For some of you, I think it's useful for me to tell you a little bit about myself. I'm the head of speech writing and policy adviser, which really means I just get to go to the meetings I want to. I've got about six writers that work for me and researchers and fact-checkers and others, and we have anywhere from about one to three events a day for the president. The complicating factor of my daily life is the staffing process, because we write beautiful things and then it goes to every senior member of the White House, and they all get a chance to comment and change things, and sometimes we get good speeches out of that process.
I studied theology at Wheaton College in Illinois; worked for a religious non-profit, Prison Fellowship Ministries; went to the Hill and did policy and speechwriting, and was asked - surprisingly - by Steve Waldman to work atU.S. News & World Report