Gerson in 2014
|White House Director of Speechwriting|
January 20, 2001 – June 2006
|President||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||J. Terry Edmonds|
|Succeeded by||William McGurn|
Michael John Gerson|
May 15, 1964
|Occupation||Presidential speechwriter, political columnist|
|This article is part of a series on|
the United States
Michael John Gerson (born May 15, 1964) is an op-ed columnist for The Washington Post, a Policy Fellow with the ONE Campaign, a visiting fellow with the Center for Public Justice, and a former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as President George W. Bush's chief speechwriter from 2001 until June 2006, as a senior policy advisor from 2000 through June 2006, and was a member of the White House Iraq Group.
He helped write George W. Bush's second inaugural address that called for neo-conservative intervention and nation building around the world to effect the spread of democracy to third world countries.
It was announced in February 2018 that Gerson would co-host with fellow commentator Amy Holmes a politically conservative-oriented talk show on PBS titled "In Principle," to air Friday nights starting April 13.
Gerson was raised in an Evangelical Christian family in St. Louis, Missouri. His paternal grandfather was Jewish. He attended Georgetown University for a year and then transferred to Wheaton College in Illinois, graduating in 1986.
Before joining the Bush Administration, he was a senior policy advisor with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy research institution. He also worked at various times as an aide to Indiana Senator Dan Coats and a speechwriter for the Presidential campaign of Bob Dole before briefly leaving the political world to cover it as a journalist for U.S. News & World Report. Gerson also worked at one point as a ghostwriter for Charles Colson.
Gerson joined the Bush campaign before 2000 as a speechwriter and went on to head the White House speechwriting team. "No one doubts that he did his job exceptionally well," wrote Ramesh Ponnuru in a 2007 article otherwise very critical of Gerson in National Review. According to Ponnuru, Bush's speechwriters had more prominence in the administration than their predecessors did under previous presidents because Bush's speeches did most of the work of defending the president's policies, since administration spokesmen and press conferences did not. On the other hand, he wrote, the speeches would announce new policies that were never implemented, making the speechwriting in some ways less influential than ever.
On June 14, 2006, it was announced that Gerson was leaving the White House to pursue other writing and policy work. He was replaced as Bush's chief speechwriter by The Wall Street Journal chief editor William McGurn.
Lines attributed to Gerson
Gerson proposed the use of a "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" mixed-metaphor during a September 5, 2002 meeting of the White House Iraq Group, in an effort to sell the American public on the nuclear dangers posed by Saddam Hussein. According to Newsweek columnist Michael Isikoff,
The original plan had been to place it in an upcoming presidential speech, but WHIG members fancied it so much that when the Times reporters contacted the White House to talk about their upcoming piece [about aluminum tubes], one of them leaked Gerson's phrase – and the administration would soon make maximum use of it.
Gerson has said one of his favorite speeches was given at the National Cathedral on September 14, 2001, a few days after the September 11, 2001 attacks, which included the following passage: "Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance, and love have no end. And the Lord of life holds all who die, and all who mourn."
Gerson is credited with coining such phrases as "the soft bigotry of low expectations" and "the armies of compassion". His noteworthy phrases for Bush are said to include "Axis of Evil," a phrase adapted from "axis of hatred," itself suggested by fellow speechwriter David Frum but deemed too mild.
Criticisms of Gerson as a speechwriter
In an article by Matthew Scully (one of Gerson's co-speechwriters) published in The Atlantic (September 2007) Gerson is criticized for seeking the limelight, taking the credit for other people's work and for creating a false image of himself.
It was always like this, working with Mike. No good deed went unreported, and many things that never happened were reported as fact. For all of our chief speechwriter’s finer qualities, the firm adherence to factual narrative is not a strong point.
Of particular note is the invention of the phrase "axis of evil." Scully claims that the phrase "axis of hatred" was coined by David Frum and forwarded to colleagues by email. The word "hatred" was changed to "evil" by someone other than Gerson and was done because "hatred" seemed the more melodramatic word at the time.
Scully also had this to say about Gerson:
My most vivid memory of Mike at Starbucks is one I have labored in vain to shake. We were working on a State of the Union address in John’s (McConnell's) office when suddenly Mike was called away for an unspecified appointment, leaving us to 'keep going.' We learned only later, from a chance conversation with his secretary, where he had gone, and it was a piece of Washington self-promotion for the ages: At the precise moment when the State of the Union address was being drafted at the White House by John and me, Mike was off pretending to craft the State of the Union in longhand for the benefit of a reporter.
Washington Post columnist
After leaving the White House, Gerson wrote for Newsweek magazine for a time. On May 16, 2007, Gerson began his tenure as a twice-weekly columnist for the Washington Post. His columns appear on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Gerson, a neo-conservative, has repeatedly criticized other conservatives in his column and conservatives have returned the favor. One of Gerson's first columns was entitled "Letting Fear Rule", in which he compared skeptics of President Bush's immigration reform bill to nativist bigots of the 1880s.
In October 2017, Gerson questioned U.S. president "Trump’s fundamental unfitness for high office." Senator Bob "Corker has given public permission to raise the most serious questions: Is Trump psychologically and morally equipped to be president? And could his unfitness cause permanent damage to the country?" and "It is no longer possible to safely ignore the leaked cries for help coming from within the administration. They reveal a president raging against enemies, obsessed by slights, deeply uninformed and incurious, unable to focus, and subject to destructive whims."
- Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America's Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail If They Don't). HarperOne. 2007. ISBN 0-06-134950-X.
- City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era. Moody. 2010. ISBN 0-8024-5857-2. (with Peter Wehner)
- Pulliam Bailey, Sarah (10 November 2010). "Faithfully and Politically Present". Christianity Today. Retrieved July 4, 2011.
- "ONE Welcomes the Washington Post's Michael Gerson". Retrieved July 4, 2011.
- "Michael J. Gerson, Visiting Fellow". Retrieved September 22, 2012.
- Naomi Schaefer Riley (2006-10-21). "Mr. Compassionate Conservatism". The Wall Street Journal.
- Isikoff, Michael; David Corn (2006-09-08). Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 0-307-34681-1.
- "The Believer". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
- "PBS launching new conservative political talk show". The Seattle Times. 2018-02-28. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
- New Yorker Magazine: "Letter From Washington: The Believer - George W. Bush’s loyal speechwriter" by Jeffrey Goldberg February 13, 2006 | "Gerson, whose parents were evangelical Christians (his last name comes from a Jewish grandfather)"
- College, Wheaton. "About Wheaton". Wheaton College. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
- "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America". TIME. 2005-02-07.
- Gerson, Michael (2007-01-07). "Q&A with Michael Gerson". Q&A (Interview). Interviewed by Brian Lamb. C-SPAN.
- Scully, Matthew, "Present at the Creation," The Atlantic Monthly, September 2007, p. 76
- "Barack Obama is 'extraordinary talent', says Michael Gerson". The Sunday Times (UK), March 26, 2008.
- Ponnuru, Ramesh, "Gerson's World: The president's chief speechwriter turns columnist," article in National Review, July 30, 2007
- "Longtime Bush Speechwriter Leaving White House". Associated Press. 2006-06-14.
- Hubris, p. 35
- Jim Rutenberg (2006-06-15). "Adviser Who Shaped Bush's Speeches Is Leaving". New York Times.
- "Leading Bush Speechwriter Resigns". Fox News. 2006-06-15. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
- Noah, Timothy (2003-01-09). ""Axis of Evil" Authorship Settled!". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
- Matthew Scully (2007-09-01). "Present at the Creation". The Atlantic.
- Scully, Matthew. "Present at the Creation". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
- Gerson, Michael (2007-05-16). "Missionaries in Northern Virginia". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
- Gerson, Michael (2007-05-25). "Letting Fear Rule". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
- Gerson, Michael (2017-10-12). "Republicans, it's time to panic". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
- A profile of Gerson in The New Yorker
- Faithfully and Politically Present Christianity Today
- The Washington Post, "Biography: Michael Gerson"
- The News Tribune, "Obama might be stuck with a beast that he can't tame"