During George W. Bush’s presidency, Tim Goeglein was the conservative voice of the White House. As special assistant to the president, he acted as liaison with conservatives, taking Bush’s message to them and bringing back their concerns and suggestions.
On Feb. 29, 2008, all that ended when Goeglein was checking his emails and saw a note from a reporter.
“I opened the email, read it once, felt the blood drain from my head, got down on my knees next to my desk, and was overcome with a fear and trepidation as never before,” Goeglein writes in his new book “The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era,” which hits bookstores this week.
“My only prayer, which I repeated again and again, was ‘God help me. God help me.’ I knew instantly this would be the most impossible day of my life, and my heart was pounding as if to burst from my chest,” Goeglein says.
The reporter told Goeglein she had learned that he had plagiarized part of a recent column he had written for The News-Sentinel, his hometown paper in Fort Wayne, Ind. In fact, the newspaper’s website said that 20 of 38 Goeglein columns between 2000 and 2008 contained “portions copied from other sources without attribution.”
The reporter wanted to know if it was true.
“It was indeed true, and I told her so instantly by return email,” Goeglein writes. “When I sent that email reply, acknowledging what I had done, in all my guilt and shame, I knew events of that day would move rapidly toward my resignation from the White House and service to a president I loved and respected.”
Goeglein resigned that afternoon, writing a personal letter of apology to the president.
“I departed the White House that Friday shattered and fearful, exiting the White House gates as I had done a thousand times before and vowing to myself that, even as I returned to work to foster a smooth transition for my successor, I would never again darken the doorstep of the West Wing,” Goeglein writes.
The following week, Josh Bolten, Bush’s chief of staff, told Goeglein that Bush wanted to see him. A few days later, Goeglein walked into the Oval Office and began by offering an apology; Bush cut him off.
“Tim,” he said, “I want you to know I forgive you.”
“But Mr. President, I owe you . . .”
“Tim,” he said, “I have known mercy and grace in my own life, and I am offering it to you now. You are forgiven,” he said firmly.
Then Bush stunned Goeglein even more. Bush said he wanted him to bring in his wife Jenny and two sons. The following week, they all met with Bush in the Oval Office.
“He gave each boy presidential gifts; photos were snapped; hugs all around and handshakes; we departed in a daze of gratitude,” Goeglein says.
“I was stunned not only that he offered his sense of forgiveness to me but also that he wanted to extend that grace and mercy to my family,” Goeglein says.
Asked why he plagiarized, Goeglein tells me candidly, “Plagiarism was an extension of my horrid pride. It was the kind of pride that was rooted in wanting to impress others by appearing to be something or someone I was not. I was completely to blame for it — no excuses, no extenuating circumstances. It was all my fault, borne of vanity, and I screwed up completely.”
Today Goeglein has regained his status in the conservative movement. He is vice president for external relations of Focus on the Family, a major Christian ministry that promotes marriage and families.
In his book, he presents a thoughtful critique of conservatism and what it means today. Ironically, in view of his plagiarism, the book is a breezy read, impressively researched, and full of thoughtful insights.
Goeglein rejects conservatives who rigidly define their beliefs in ideological fashion. Rather, like Russell Kirk, one of the founding fathers of the American conservative movement, he thinks of conservatism as a culture and a way of life.
“Conservatism is defined principally by belief in a small or limited government, low taxes, fewer regulations, a strong national defense, and traditional American values,” Goeglein says. “It is rooted in the first principles of family, freedom, and the Constitution.”
To define conservatism too narrowly is to reject its strength and to lose elections.
“That’s not to say that you can define conservatism any way you want, but it is rooted in a political program,” Goeglein says. “I believe that the danger for American conservatism is that it can be defined too narrowly and that if we go down that road, American conservatism becomes a small thing rather than what it is in its essence, which is a large thing that has a multiplier effect.”
While many conservatives disagreed with Bush on some issues, “I believe that he was the most pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-religious liberty, and pro-security president we could possibly have had,” Goeglein says. “George W. Bush’s greatest achievement was to have kept us safe on our domestic soil after 9/11.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is a New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. His latest, "The Secrets of the FBI," has just been published. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via email. Go Here Now.
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