Michael Gerson, the president's speechwriter, has packed up his stacks of yellow legal pads, books, papers and mementos and made a long, fond farewell to the man who has spoken the words, for better and for worse, that he has been writing for George W. Bush since he announced in early 1999 that he was running for president.
Some of his phrases are etched in incandescent memory:
"The success of America has never been proven by cities of gold, but citizens of character. Men and women who work hard, dream big, love their family, serve their neighbor. Values that turn a piece of earth into a neighborhood, a community, a chosen nation."
In nearly every farewell interview, Gerson has been asked about the religious faith he shares with the president. Both are evangelical Christians, and their spiritual connections are targets of criticism in Washington, where the secular catechism of cynicism is meant to be beyond challenge. The speechwriter defends the Biblical references as a way of placing current events in a moral context, and cites precedent in the rhetoric of Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and other leaders for justice, social and otherwise. (He could have cited every other president since Washington.)
But such references are suspect today, as if they were a code for proselytizing. This is obviously wrong-headed, because religious language is not used in a sectarian way, and the goal of such language is to embrace all faiths as the strands that tie together our nationhood. In contrast to certain polls that suggest hostility to the president's references of faith, Gerson argues that his personal idealism has been strengthened by working for this president because public service is both meaningful and ennobling. "It can play a very important moral role in the lives of Americans," he told Fox News Sunday.
This is the formidable impulse toward political balance, stemming from what Leo Strauss calls the pull of both Athens and Jerusalem, the roots of Western civilization. Democratic governance was bequeathed by Athens, with certitudes running through revolutionary and reform movements based on reason and flowing from the Enlightenment. But it's the Biblical truths of the Judeo-Christian faiths born in ancient Jerusalem that temper self-righteous political polarization with considerations of the soul and spirit.