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OPINION: Michael Gerson, a different kind of Conservative

by EVAN KOCH/More Perfect Union
| November 23, 2022 1:00 AM

We heard various definitions of conservatism during the recently concluded mid-term election campaign. “Vetted,” “Conservative, not crazy” and “RINO” (Republican in name only) were three of them. It is fascinating to me how far to the extremes North Idaho’s unique brand of conservatism has shifted.

I thought of that recently when I read an obituary for Michael Gerson, who was President George W. Bush’s speechwriter in the White House and then an opinion writer for the Washington Post.

Gerson composed some of Bush’s most memorable phrases like “axis of evil” to describe the administration’s misguided perception of the threats posed by Afghanistan and Iraq. He influenced important American policies throughout the Bush years, some of which I agreed with.

For example, Gerson favored using American firepower to spread democracy, and were he alive today it is likely he would support President Biden’s muscular but measured and multilateral approach in Ukraine.

Gerson, like me, was a humanitarian. His views on human rights amplified those of President Bush, who was essentially a humanitarian as well.

Bush could speak some Spanish; he understood that most border crossers are not criminals. They are political and economic refugees. Bush, with Gerson as his speechwriter, pointedly said, “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande.” Bush also made great efforts to eradicate AIDs and malaria in Africa, though these projects did not get wide recognition.

In his later years, Gerson criticized Donald Trump for catering to authoritarian human rights violators like Rodrigo Duterte, Viktor Orban and others. Gerson wrote that, under Trump, the “moral authority of the presidency is in tatters.” Here again, I agree.

Gerson was an evangelical Christian who proselytized about American democracy, calling it a “seed upon the wind, taking root in many nations.” He believed that religion is, and should remain, a crucial part of American politics. Removing religion from the political sphere, he claimed, would apply as much to Osama Bin Laden and Pat Robertson as it would to Martin Luther King.

However, Gerson also advocated for a common good, arguing that “we need to orient our policies toward people that might not even vote for us — need to make sure that we’re inclusive and hopeful and oriented towards opportunity.”

In this respect Gerson differed markedly from MAGA followers who continue to persecute already marginalized groups.

Gerson told National Public Radio that “government can do good under the right circumstances, with the right theory and the right approach. Politicians who do not recognize that don’t deserve to win.”

Kootenai County’s thousands of Democrats range from progressive Liberals to frustrated Conservatives, and everywhere in between. By embracing this diversity, Democrats are increasingly made up of people who are fed up with a GOP that keeps migrating farther and farther to the right. We are ready for real progress through real bipartisan cooperation. To achieve this, Kootenai County could use more Conservatives like Michael Gerson.

• • •

Evan Koch is chairman of the Kootenai County Democrats.

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