June 25, 2006 -- Few people have enjoyed the same access to President George W. Bush's mind as his head speech writer of seven years, Michael Gerson. He is the latest of the administration's top aides to resign, but is proud of the work he did while in the White House.
Named one of Time magazine's 25 most influential evangelical Christians, the Bush administration said Gerson is leaving for new career options.
"There's no way to replace him," top presidential advisor Karl Rove told The New York Times. "He is a once-in-a-generation. He helped take the president on his best day and represent what was in the president's spirit and soul."
Gerson, 42, is responsible for writing some of the most famous words Bush has uttered. He is rumored to be the man behind the famous phrase "Axis of Evil," referring to Iraq, Iran and North Korea. But some of the most famous and moving of Bush's speeches came in the wake of 9/11.
"This generation will lift the dark threat of violence from our people and our future," the president said in an address to a joint session of Congress after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail."
"I'd been a writer for many years, and it really proved that sometimes in some circumstances, the words really do matter," Gerson said. "I am proud of what we were able to do. It rallied the country at the same time as it comforted the country."
A Meeting of the Minds
Gerson said he worked on those lines with the president, who he said is very involved in the speech writing process and frequently writes notes in the margins and makes many edits. Gerson said that the speech was critical because they had to "show the American people a way forward and a new era."
On a major speech, Gerson said the president wants an early outline so he can evaluate it and make comments. He is invested in the message early on in the process, Gerson said.
"And then I'll go away with some other writers that I work with and we'll come up with a draft, and then sometimes it will go through 20 or 30 drafts through the process," Gerson said. "And [Bush will] tell us exactly the way he wants it. And he edits on the teleprompter right at the end to kind of make sure the words sound the way he wants them."
If the president is meticulous about his written addresses, he has been more lax in his unscripted moments. He admitted at a press conference that he regretted saying things like "bring it on" in a challenge to insurgents in Iraq in 2003, when the first clamoring for a withdrawal began.
"Saying 'bring it on;' tough talk that sent the wrong signal to people," Bush said. "Learned some lessons about expressing myself in more sophisticated manner. 'Wanted dead or alive' -- that kind of talk."
Despite the fallout from those remarks, Gerson said that the president should "go with his heart in those circumstances."
"I actually thought that he was leading the country and making a blunt statement about getting the enemy," he said.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have tested his own abilities, Gerson said.
"We've had to write words of comfort for the families of the dead," he said. "We've had to talk about a broad purpose that's worth the suffering. And that is-- It's very, very difficult to be involved in that."
In his speeches, Bush has tried to reach out to families who lost loved ones in war and show them how much their sacrifices are appreciated.
"Every name, every life is a loss to our military, to our nation and to loved ones," the president said on the USS Lincoln.
Although there are new things on the horizon for Gerson, he said that "it is a tough, it's a bittersweet decision to leave the White House."