Sunday, January 13, 2008. 10 AM
Can Conservatism Be Heroic?
Can conservatism be heroic? Michael Gerson, author of the new book Heroic Conservatism, meets with Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III to explore answers and underlying reasons.
Gerson worked as a speech writer and policy advisor to President George W. Bush from 1999 to 2006. Earlier, as a journalist, Gerson met then-Governor Bush before he declared his candidacy for president. Around that time, Bush described Jesus as his favorite political philosopher. The remark created some controversy. I always found that the president did not cynically use his faith, but it was always very close to the surface, Gerson summarizes, adding, He was sometimes derided.
At several points the discussion addresses how Christianity figures in public life. Gerson asserts that Christianity does not dictate a certain political ideology. Christianity at its best has stood in judgment of all political ideologies, he comments.
I think that theres a real danger whenever political figures and nations identify their own purposes with the purposes of God, Gerson observes. In the history of American rhetoric, he says, Scriptural references have a resonance and richness, although a lesser meaning than in the Bible. Gerson cites Scriptural references in memorable speeches made by Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ronald Reagan. I think that American rhetoric would be really impoverished without such references, Gerson adds.
American has both a moral mandate and a national interest to be even more engaged in a soft power approach to the world, Gerson asserts. He describes President Bushs efforts against AIDS, and strong support of the Presidents Malaria Initiative, which Gerson personally championed. (Washington National Cathedrals own efforts against malaria are associated with the presidents initiative.)
Gerson calls for Americans to respond more generously to the great needs of the world, both from compassion and because of national interests. He has witnessed bipartisan interest in addressing the tragedy in Darfur and other troubled areas of the world; this experience gives him hope that the nation can unite to address seemingly intractable problems.
Dean Lloyd points to the complex implications of the phrase heroic conservatism. Gerson responds in part with a story about a worker in a rural clinic in Zambia that distributes anti-retroviral drugs to HIV patients under a grant from the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The worker met a woman who had walked two days to reach the clinic, and asked why she had made the long journey. Because we heard the Americans were coming, the woman replied. This anecdote suggests a genuinely heroic role that Americans can play in the world. Americans need to be proud of what were doing, and committed to do more, Gerson says.
About Michael Gerson
Michael Gerson is the author of the new book Heroic Conservatism. Gerson worked as a speech writer and policy advisor to PresidentGeorge W. Bush from 1999 to 2006. Earlier, as a journalist, Gerson met then-Governor Bush before he declared his candidacy for president.