Michael Gerson
Gerson in 2014
White House Director of Speechwriting
In office
January 20, 2001 – June 14, 2006
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byTerry Edmonds
Succeeded byWilliam McGurn
Personal details
Michael John Gerson

(1964-05-15)May 15, 1964
Belmar, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedNovember 17, 2022(2022-11-17) (aged 58)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseDawn Gerson

Michael John Gerson (May 15, 1964 – November 17, 2022) was an American journalist and speechwriter. He was a neoconservative op-ed columnist for The Washington Post, a Policy Fellow with One Campaign,[1][2] a visiting fellow with the Center for Public Justice,[3] and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.[4] He served as President George W. Bush's chief speechwriter from 2001 until June 2006, as a senior policy advisor from 2000 through June 2006, and was a member of the White House Iraq Group.[5]

Gerson helped write the inaugural address for the second inauguration of George W. Bush, which called for neo-conservative intervention and nation-building around the world to effect the spread of democracy to third world countries.[6]

In 2018, Gerson and commentator Amy Holmes co-hosted In Principle, a politically conservative-oriented television talk show that ran for eight episodes on PBS.[7][8]

Early life and education

Gerson was born on May 15, 1964, in Belmar, New Jersey,[9] and raised in an Evangelical Christian family[10] in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended Westminster Christian Academy for high school. His paternal grandfather was Jewish.[10] He attended Georgetown University for a year and then transferred to Wheaton College in Illinois, graduating in 1986.[11]


Dan Bartlett, Brett Kavanaugh, Condoleezza Rice, and Gerson review President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech in 2004

Before joining the Bush administration, he was a senior policy advisor with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy research institution.[12] He also worked at various times as an aide to Indiana Senator Dan Coats and a speechwriter for the presidential campaign of Bob Dole before briefly leaving the political world to cover it as a journalist for U.S. News & World Report.[13] Gerson also worked at one point as a ghostwriter for Charles Colson.[14] In early 1999, Karl Rove recruited Gerson for the Bush campaign.[15]

Gerson was named by Time as one of "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals In America." The February 7, 2005, issue listed Gerson as the ninth-most influential evangelical that year.[12]


Gerson joined the Bush campaign before 2000 as a speechwriter and went on to head the White House speechwriting team. "No one doubts that he did his job exceptionally well," wrote Ramesh Ponnuru in a 2007 article otherwise very critical of Gerson in National Review. According to Ponnuru, Bush's speechwriters had more prominence in the administration than their predecessors did under previous presidents because Bush's speeches did most of the work of defending the president's policies, since administration spokesmen and press conferences did not. On the other hand, he wrote, the speeches would announce new policies that were never implemented, making the speechwriting in some ways less influential than ever.[16]

On June 14, 2006, it was announced that Gerson was leaving the White House to pursue other writing and policy work.[17][18] He was replaced as Bush's chief speechwriter by The Wall Street Journal chief editor William McGurn.[citation needed]

Lines attributed to Gerson

Gerson proposed the use of a "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" mixed-metaphor during a September 5, 2002, meeting of the White House Iraq Group, in an effort to sell the American public on the nuclear dangers posed by Saddam Hussein. According to Newsweek columnist Michael Isikoff,

The original plan had been to place it in an upcoming presidential speech, but WHIG members fancied it so much that when the Times reporters contacted the White House to talk about their upcoming piece [about aluminum tubes], one of them leaked Gerson's phrase – and the administration would soon make maximum use of it.[19]

Gerson said one of his favorite speeches was given at the National Cathedral on September 14, 2001, a few days after the September 11 attacks, which included the following passage: "Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance, and love have no end. And the Lord of life holds all who die, and all who mourn."[20]

Gerson was credited with coining such phrases as "the soft bigotry of low expectations" and "the armies of compassion".[21] His noteworthy phrases for Bush are said to include "Axis of Evil," a phrase adapted from "axis of hatred," itself suggested by fellow speechwriter David Frum but deemed too mild.[22]

Criticism of Gerson's speechwriting

In an article by Matthew Scully, one of Bush's speechwriters, published in The Atlantic in September 2007, Gerson was criticized for seeking the limelight, taking credit for other people's work and creating a false image of himself. "No good deed went unreported, and many things that never happened were reported as fact. For all of our chief speechwriter's finer qualities, the firm adherence to factual narrative is not a strong point."[23] Of particular note is the invention of the phrase "axis of evil." Scully claims that the phrase "axis of hatred" was coined by David Frum and forwarded to colleagues by email. The word "hatred" was changed to "evil" by someone other than Gerson and was changed because "hatred" seemed the more melodramatic word at the time.[23]

Scully also had this to say about Gerson:

My most vivid memory of Mike at Starbucks is one I have labored in vain to shake. We were working on a State of the Union address in John [McConnell]'s office when suddenly Mike was called away for an unspecified appointment, leaving us to 'keep going'. We learned only later, from a chance conversation with his secretary, where he had gone, and it was a piece of Washington self-promotion for the ages: At the precise moment when the State of the Union address was being drafted at the White House by John and me, Mike was off [at a Washington D.C. Starbucks store] pretending to craft the State of the Union in longhand for the benefit of a reporter.[23]

Washington Post columnist

After leaving the White House, Gerson wrote for Newsweek magazine for a time.[citation needed] On May 16, 2007, Gerson began his tenure as a twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His columns appeared on Wednesdays and Fridays.[24]

Gerson, a neo-conservative, repeatedly criticized other conservatives in his column and conservatives returned the favor. One of Gerson's first columns was entitled "Letting Fear Rule", in which he compared skeptics of President Bush's immigration reform bill to nativist bigots of the 1880s.[25]

In October 2017, Gerson referred to President Donald Trump's "fundamental unfitness for high office" and asked whether he is "psychologically and morally equipped to be president? And could his unfitness cause permanent damage to the country?" He cited "the leaked cries for help coming from within the administration. They reveal a president raging against enemies, obsessed by slights, deeply uninformed and incurious, unable to focus, and subject to destructive whims."[26]

In August 2019, Gerson wrote that it is a "scandal" that "white evangelical Protestants" are not in a state of "panic" about their own demographic decline in the United States.[27]

Personal life

Gerson's wife Dawn was born in South Korea. She was adopted by an American family when she was six years old and raised in the Midwestern United States. The couple met in high school, and have two sons. They resided in Northern Virginia.[28][29][30]

Health and death

Gerson suffered from major depressive disorder, and was hospitalized at least once for it.[31][32]

In 2013, Gerson was diagnosed with kidney cancer.[33][34] He also had Parkinson's disease.[35] He died from kidney cancer at a Washington, D.C. hospital, on November 17, 2022, at age 58.[9][36]

Published works


  1. ^ Pulliam Bailey, Sarah (November 10, 2010). "Faithfully and Politically Present". Christianity Today. Archived from the original on April 7, 2020. Retrieved July 4, 2011.
  2. ^ "ONE Welcomes the Washington Post's Michael Gerson". Retrieved July 4, 2011.
  3. ^ "Michael J. Gerson, Visiting Fellow". Archived from the original on March 22, 2015. Retrieved September 22, 2012.
  4. ^ Schaefer Riley, Naomi (October 21, 2006). "Mr. Compassionate Conservatism". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on October 25, 2006.
  5. ^ Isikoff, Michael; David Corn (September 8, 2006). Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 0-307-34681-1.
  6. ^ "The Believer". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  7. ^ "PBS launching new conservative political talk show". The Seattle Times. February 28, 2018. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  8. ^ "In Principle: Season 1 Episodes". PBS.org.
  9. ^ a b Murphy, Brian (November 17, 2022). "Michael Gerson, Post columnist and Bush speechwriter on 9/11, dies at 58". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 17, 2022.
  10. ^ a b New Yorker Magazine: "Letter From Washington: The Believer – George W. Bush's loyal speechwriter" by Jeffrey Goldberg Archived January 19, 2017, at the Wayback Machine February 13, 2006 | "Gerson, whose parents were evangelical Christians (his last name comes from a Jewish grandfather)"
  11. ^ "About Wheaton". Wheaton College. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  12. ^ a b "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America". Time. February 7, 2005. Archived from the original on February 3, 2005.
  13. ^ Gerson, Michael (January 7, 2007). "Q&A with Michael Gerson". Q&A (Interview). Interviewed by Brian Lamb. C-SPAN.
  14. ^ Scully, Matthew, "Present at the Creation," The Atlantic, September 2007, p. 76.
  15. ^ "Barack Obama is 'extraordinary talent', says Michael Gerson". The Sunday Times (UK), March 26, 2008.
  16. ^ Ponnuru, Ramesh, "Gerson's World: The president's chief speechwriter turns columnist," article in National Review, July 30, 2007.
  17. ^ "Longtime Bush Speechwriter Leaving White House". The New York Times. Associated Press. June 14, 2006.
  18. ^ Burkeman, Oliver (June 15, 2006). "Bush speechwriter resigns". The Guardian. Retrieved November 18, 2022.
  19. ^ Hubris, p. 35.
  20. ^ Rutenberg, Jim (June 15, 2006). "Adviser Who Shaped Bush's Speeches Is Leaving". The New York Times.
  21. ^ "Leading Bush Speechwriter Resigns". Fox News. June 15, 2006. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  22. ^ Noah, Timothy (January 9, 2003). ""Axis of Evil" Authorship Settled!". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  23. ^ a b c Scully, Matthew (September 2007). "Present at the Creation". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  24. ^ Gerson, Michael (May 16, 2007). "Missionaries in Northern Virginia". Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  25. ^ Gerson, Michael (May 25, 2007). "Letting Fear Rule". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  26. ^ Gerson, Michael (October 12, 2017). "Republicans, it's time to panic". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 13, 2010.
  27. ^ Gerson, Michael (August 29, 2019). "Why white evangelicals should panic". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  28. ^ Gerson, Michael (April 27, 2010). "International adoption: From a broken bond to an instant bond". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  29. ^ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2018). "Speakers: Michael J. Gerson". Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  30. ^ Chen, Edwin (September 22, 2001). "Helping Bush Sound Presidential". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  31. ^ Political columnist Michael Gerson on coping with 'insidious' depression on YouTube published February 19, 2019, PBS NewsHour.
  32. ^ "Read Michael Gerson's Sermon Sharing His Struggle with Depression". PBS. February 19, 2019. Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  33. ^ Gerson, Michael (December 5, 2013). "Michael Gerson: After cancer diagnosis, seeing mortality in the near distance". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  34. ^ Gerson, Michael (December 23, 2021). "Michael Gerson: This Christmas, hope may feel elusive. But despair is not the answer". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  35. ^ Wehner, Peter (November 18, 2022). "My Friend, Mike Gerson". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 7, 2022.
  36. ^ Risen, Clay (November 17, 2022). "Michael J. Gerson, Presidential Speechwriter and Columnist, Dies at 58". The New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2022.
The Washington Post Writers Group