Speechwriter as policymaker. A conversation at the PSA World Conference last month inspired me to look up an editorial I wrote for the erstwhile Ragan Report back in 2005. It was the story of how President George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter Michael Gerson was responsible for putting the “compassionate” in Bush’s version of “compassionate conservatism.”
I quoted an anecdote from the National Journal, which recounted a policy meeting about the advisability of funneling $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa. At one point, Bush turned to Gerson:
“Mike, what do you think?”
“Mr. President, if this is possible—and we don’t do it—we will never be forgiven.”
There was a brief pause, as the others seemed taken aback.
Bush broke the silence himself, bellowing, “That’s Gerson being Gerson!”
And then he approved the plan.
At the PSA World Conference, David Petraeus told the audience that sometimes policy gets made by speechwriters. The speechwriters nodded and smiled and laughed, knowingly.