Dubya's longtime speechwriter, Michael Gerson, has a question-and-answer article posted in Christianity Today that helps to explain why George W. Bush has been good for the nation and why Africa in the 21st century is certainly going to be an important focus:
What more do you wish you had accomplished before leaving the White House?
We've set some broad policy goals that are going to take a long time to accomplish—the promotion of democracy in the Middle East, setting up a stable democratic government in Iraq, and some of the goals we set on malaria or AIDS or development.
Will compassionate conservatism survive rising deficits, the cost of Katrina, and illegal immigration?
There are some members of the Republican Party who do not understand the power and appeal of this set of issues and who have a much more narrow view of government's role. These issues are very much up for debate. Immigration is a good example. I understand the need for any nation to control its borders. But I do think that people of faith bring a little different perspective to this issue. There's a positive requirement to welcome the stranger and to care for people even if they're not citizens. Human dignity is universal and doesn't depend on what papers you hold. That brings a leavening perspective to a lot of these issues. And it's the perspective the President has brought to this issue. It would be a shame if conservatism were to return to a much more narrow and libertarian and nativist approach.
Until recently, the Republican Party and Christian conservatives have complained that government is the problem. Is that a view they will likely return to?
I think it's a temptation, but I don't think it's going to happen. One reason is because of what's changed in evangelical political involvement.
I think there are lots and lots of young people, in their 20s to 40s, who are very impatient with older models of social engagement like those used by the Religious Right. They understand the importance of the life issues and the family issues, but they know the concern for justice has to be broader and global. At least a good portion of the evangelical movement is looking for leaders who have a broader conception of social justice. President Bush has provided that in many ways. He ran his initial campaign on education and on faith-based answers to poverty and addiction. And then he's led the international efforts we've undertaken, both on the development and disease side, but also on the spread of human liberty.
You're starting to sound like Jim Wallis!
No, because I also don't think the answers can be found in the Religious Left. I don't think we can minimize some of the traditional issues. I don't believe it's possible to be concerned about social justice without being concerned about the weakest members of the human family. I also think that America can play an active and positive role in the world and that we're not at fault for everything.
Many evangelicals are looking for something that's still developing, if you talk to people like Rick Warren or Tim Keller. One thing that's catalyzed it is probably Africa, where so many young evangelicals I know have spent time. They've seen the needs and the extraordinary kind of spiritual strength that's found in the continent, and they've come away changed.
I bet they have; that's what cultural exchange is all about. That's also what Africa 2008 is all about. With any luck, maybe we'll finally get that initiative off the ground this year. However, Gerson has clearly communicated to me that he will not simply be a “former speechwriter” in the future.
He's going to seek to make his mark, and that's a very good thing.