The Man in the Middle:
An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era
By Timothy S. Goeglein
(B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, 2011)
Reviewed by Connie Marshner
Many people write Washington memoirs because they want to air dirty laundry or spew forth detraction and scandal, or at least indulge in a little I-told-you-so gloating. It is refreshing to read recollections of a tour of duty in the White House that has none of this.
Now Washington rep for Focus on the Family, Goeglein was Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison from January 21, 2001 until early 2008—the man in the middle between the Christian, pro-life, pro-family grassroots and Karl Rove/George W. Bush. A Missouri Lutheran, Tim was the perfect liaison. Your reviewer observed—and even put—him in some pretty stressful situations during those years, and never was he without calmness and a well-reasoned, well-worded response that faithfully and accurately reflected his bosses, Karl Rove and George W. Bush.
In the line of duty, he was masterful at keeping even a hint of his own opinion out of his words or his voice. In this book, he has his chance to make up for lost time. But instead, he stays true to form, and that gives the book its value.
If Tim Goeglein has a critical thought about anybody in the Bush Administration, he keeps it to himself. At first, the word adulation came to mind to describe the estimation in which he holds George W. Bush. Generous statements like: “I . . . have come to conclude . . . that, on major decisions, he was not only right but also wise in his prudential judgments and in the way he led” seem to occur frequently.
But perhaps loyal is a better word, because the book does not pretend to be more than it is. It makes no pretensions to be an analysis of foreign, domestic, or political policy. For instance, the first mention of the War in Iraq comes on p. 172, more than halfway through the 241 pages.
The Man in the Middle is Tim’s own story, and with impressive honesty he describes himself a “a conservative without prefix or suffix”, and with noteworthy humility, he sees himself as a small fish in a big pond. Thus, he dwells primarily on the areas where his heart lies, and when he is giving you his own opinion, he does not pretend it is anything else. He sums up GWB thus: “…he was the most pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-religious liberty president of the contemporary era….”
That is a true statement, as far as it goes. Pro-life advocates might wish that he had done more (prevented RU-486 from being legalized, advanced more truth about the abortion/breast cancer link, for instance), and marriage advocates still quarrel over DOMA vs. constitutional amendment (which GWB supported)—but what president has done more for either area of concern? Certainly not Bush’s father, nor Clinton, nor Obama.
His analysis of the whirlwind life of Washington, with all its attendant risks, is insightful, with a memorable turn of phrase: “. . . it is common to mix and mingle one’s social life with work. . .the net effect can be a kind of human catnip, an elixir that becomes a way of life.”
The twelve pages of footnotes will be appreciated by future historians. For the book will endure: as it is not caught up in trendiness, it will for a long time hold its value as a first-person account of life in the White House in the Bush II era. The copyeditors, however, needed a better grasp of English grammar and punctuation: to whom does “one of the teachers’ husband” refer? It should have been short work to re-write a sentence such as this, which, alas, survived uncorrected on p. 98: “The goal was to open a dialogue, earn the honor of being heard, and having the president’s viewpoint thoughtfully considered.”
If Tim Goeglein’s goals were to leave a record, earn the honor of a footnote in history, and have President George W. Bush charitably remembered, he has succeeded admirably.