While faith and American politics have long been intertwined, President George W. Bush was, in many ways, a modern pioneer. Not only did he famously call Jesus his favorite philosopher — he also explicitly incorporated his faith into his own political principles — a body of ideas he termed “compassionate conservatism.”
I recently had the opportunity to explore Bush’s faith in a conversation with Timothy Goeglein, the man who served in the White House as the President’s liaison to the conservative base, and the author of the new book “The Man in the Middle.”
The book is an intimate account of not only Goeglein’s personal struggle and redemption — he resigned from the White House after being involved in a plagiarism scandal — but also the faith he and the president shared.
Goeglein was initially drawn to conservatism through William F. Buckley’s National Review. Reading book reviews and essays at the back of every issue gave him a strong sense that conservatism was first and foremost about culture. Recounting the ideas of Edmund Burke, Goeglein grew to believe that conservatism is fundamentally a way of life and that achieving meaningful change is about pursuing reform while “preserving what’s worth preserving.”
According to Goeglein, the president’s faith imbued his politics with a strong sense of mercy and that, contrary to the common understanding, Bush believed “the little platoons” and “intermediary institutions” like churches, other religious institutions, and the family, ought to be the cornerstones of charity.
Indeed, as Goeglein recalls in his book, he experienced President Bush’s mercy first hand. After his plagiarism scandal broke, Goeglein entered the Oval Office to apologize. But before he could say a thing, the President told him he forgave him, explaining that “I have known grace and mercy in my life and I extend it to you.”
Goeglein believes that when all is said and done, history will judge the president well. He believes that President Bush’s choices after 9/11 kept the country safe and that his achievements throughout his administration were “animated by conservative principles and significant victories.”
Goeglein’s book ends on a decidedly positive note. Perhaps inspired by his own personal redemption, he still believes the best is yet to come. While the conservative movement is by no means monolithic, Goeglein argues that the conservative principles that guided the Bush administration are on the rise and will be central to what he calls the “coming American Renaissance.” Listen to our full conversation here.