Timothy S. Goeglein, former Special Assistant to President Bush, may have just invented a new genre with his memoir The Man in the Middle : the non-vindictive insider tell all.
His book about his eight years in the White House, The Man in the Middle could have easily sought an indictment of President Bushs political heterodoxy (expansion of Medicare, No Child Left Behind, TARP, etc.) or taken a poke at colleagues he felt led the president a stray. But Mr. Goeglein chooses a different path, one of noblesse oblige, a characteristic he could very well have picked up from the president himself, as we learn in the books first chapter.
In 2008, just as President Bushs term is about to expire, and just as Mr. Goeglein is presumably about to cash in on his eight years of service in the worlds most powerful locus, he is ensnared in scandal. Mr. Goeglein, the presidents top envoy to the evangelical community was exposed as a serial plagiarist. Given his title, and the high profile of his boss, Mr. Goegleins sins became a matter of public record in nearly every paper of record. When news broke, Washingtonians believed, with some justification, that they were reading Mr. Goegleins professional obituary. In Washington, staff who disgrace themselves are often sent away with the equivalent of a bottle of scotch and a loaded revolver and encouraged to make quick work of it. Instead, Mr. Goeglein is sent off with a full presidential pardon.
There doesnt seem to be any other characterization better suited for President Bushs temperament in his last dealings with Mr. Goeglein than the word noble, unless it is the words Christian gentleman. Mr. Goegleins encounter with the Presidents magnanimity (which literally means, bearing or possessing a great soul) makes for the books most powerful chapter. In a city that can be so unforgiving, this story of grace and mercy in action gives one hope. And in a profession where men and women try to plaster over their moral or ethical lapses with excuses, Mr. Goegleins sincere contrition makes for an inspiring, courageous example.
Later in the book, as Mr. Goeglein mounts a defense of the tactics and strategy of the Bush administration, even the hardest conservative critic of the president is forced to reassess the presidents decisions in light of how the commander-in-chief handled Mr. Goeglein. Those not entirely convinced that the president pursued the right policies, must concede he is a man of decent character guided by honorable motives.
The rest of the book is a policy memoir, recounting Mr. Goegleins formation as a conservative, and the development of a career trajectory that brought him to Washington and involved him in some of the great social issue battles of the Bush administration. Much of the journey will sound familiar to many conservatives who have ended up in politicsa chance encounter with the National Review begets an interest in Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and finally leads to a job in Washington.
Along the way, Mr. Goeglein helps crew NR founder William F. Buckley, Jr.s sloop in Long Island Sound, and sits fireside with the great traditionalist man of letters Russell Kirk during a bleak Michigan winter night. His knack for forming friendships with conservative luminaries made him an obvious choice for the office of Public Liaison in the new Bush administration, a job that, ironically, would send him into the maw of right-wing opposition regularly. As point man on religious coalitions, a number of distinctly non-political duties devolved upon him. In 2005 Mr. Goeglein was called upon to perform the somber work of attending Pope John Paul IIs requiem mass (a curious duty for Mr. Goeglein, a lifelong Lutheran), and, after September 11, 2001, pulling together the liturgy and hymns and homilists for an ecumenical service of prayer at the National Cathedral.
But the bulk of his work was socializing White House policy with those Mr. Goeglein calls values voters and attempting to secure their support. While Mr. Goeglein admits that he really had no power when it came to setting the agenda (an admission youll almost never hear in Washington), and refuses to take credit for any of the administrations successes, theres no doubt that his yeomans work, which was carried out with tenacity and humility, helped the Bush administration notch some of its greatest victories, most especially the confirmations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
The air has been heavy lately with the gun smoke from dueling Bush administration memoirists. As former Secretary of State Condi Rices history of her days in the executive branch trades fire with Vice President Cheneys different account of the same events, it is refreshing to find one book about the Bush years that sets the record straight without tearing anyone else down. Though his instinct is for ceding the glory to others, Mr. Goeglein certainly deserves to take credit for this one.