As time passes, and the distance between George W. Bush’s presidency and the present grows, we can gauge his biggest decisions and his fortitude with greater circumspection. And the deeper understanding that comes through time helps us see that many of the decisions that elicited the most outrage while he was in office have proven, with time, to be some of his best.
Moreover, from the perspective of the highly secularized administration occupying the presidency today, it’s surreal to reflect on how important President Bush’s faith was to him and to those around him. As well as how focused and tenacious that faith made him once the role of “war president” was thrust on his shoulders one cloudless September day.
All these things and more were brought to the forefront of my mind as I recently read a book by my friend Timothy S. Goeglein, titled “The Man in the Middle: An Insider Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era” (released September 15, 2011). Because Tim served as deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison in the Bush administration for nearly eight years, he saw the president from an angle untainted by the mainstream media’s reports, the Democrat’s attacks, and our jihad-driven enemy’s propaganda.
In sum, “The Man in the Middle” is a narrative of the Bush presidency interwoven in an often autobiographical work that retraces the path that led Tim into politics, eventually bringing him to Bush’s 2000 campaign and then on to the White House itself.
The autobiographical portions are very important, for they demonstrate how well suited Tim was to write this book, based on the totality of his reading, his mentors, and his dedication to his wife and two sons. And of course his experiences in the White House put him in the perfect place to write a book that provides the reader “a personal portrait” of President Bush, written “by a friend” and “White House insider who was on the outer ring,” yet who was “on occasion…honored to pray with the president.”
Throughout the book, Tim brings to mind the prescient moments of the Bush presidency (and our nation’s history) His account of the 9/11 attacks from the perspective of one who was in DC that day and who had to travel past the smoldering Pentagon to return to his Northern Virginia home that evening, will give every reader pause. His description of people huddled in the streets of DC, praying for our country as the news of the attacks unfolded, is moving to the say the least. Then he turns his pen to President Bush, whom we remember now as the one who bravely stood when so many others fearfully sat. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Tim presents Bush as a man who made hard decisions with prayer, reflection, and consultation, and who, upon making such decisions, never looked back.
Tim writes that Bush “was a reluctant war president,” but that once in war, “he became one of our country’s most effective war presidents.” He makes this point again and again emphatically by reminding the reader that while Bush fought off attacks from jihadists across the sea, here at home he was regularly being attacked by Democrats who sought to weaken or stop the war effort. An example of the latter, which he remembers vividly, took place in April 2007 when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asserted the Iraq surge was “not accomplishing anything” and that “the war is lost.”
Another president in another time may have buckled from the pressure or tried to find a political solution. Another president may have caved or become preoccupied with public opinion polls. President Bush did none of these things because he knew the mission was the right mission for the future of our freedom and security. …The surge was won because President Bush made the right decisions at the right time. It took courage—mental, spiritual courage—to make that decision and not to back down when huge numbers of the American and international political and pundit classes were pounding him every day, demanding retreat.
Tim also brings to mind Bush’s fight for the sanctity of marriage and the dignity of life. In reading these pages, the reader faces that fact that it wasn’t that long ago that the occupant of the White House supported the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), refused federal monies for organizations that supported abortion, and who opposed new embryo destruction for research purposes on the grounds that destroying life to save life was essentially anti-life. I read these accounts with the sad knowledge that the Obama administration has pushed for a complete reversal of these policy positions. In fact, the contrast between the Bush administration and the current one is literally that of life and death.
Perhaps the most fitting thing to do in closing is to highlight that which Tim highlights throughout so many portions of the book: namely, the faith of President Bush. From a campaign trail speech in December 1999, where a questioner asked Bush to name his favorite philosopher and Bush answered, “Christ, because He changed my heart,” to numerous episodes throughout his presidency, the reader is confronted (and comforted) by the fact that Bush’s faith was genuine. Tim relays one story where “a famous American” walked into the Oval Office and “with barely a pause” looked at the President and asked if he “believed in the literal six-day creation of the world.” In response Bush smiled, admitted the ongoing debate over the timeline of creation, and then, instead of cowering down, said: “Let me tell you what I am confident of; I am confident that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for my sins on the cross, that He rose on Easter Sunday. That is what I believe.”