In 2008, Timothy S. Goeglein had to resign from his middleman post at the White House, connecting social-conservative groups, among others, with the administration, when he admitted to plagiarizing columns for his hometown paper in Indiana. Now a vice president for external relations at Focus on the Family, he is the author of the new book The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era and talks about it with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You blame pride for what you did. Where does pride come from? Did you see it coming? Did you know it before you got caught?
TIMOTHY S. GOEGLEIN: The root of any sin is our fallen human nature. And yes, I think at some level all of us understand what our vulnerabilities and weaknesses are or could be. Bill Buckley once wrote it was a remarkable thing to be having a conversation with a president of the United States and see him taking notes while you are speaking. I was never a confidant of the president nor was I on the senior White House team. But I know what Bill meant. The contrails of that kind of power can be long and winding. The White House and its environs can be a heady place: the history of it all, its projection of influence, the place where the most powerful man in the world both works and resides.
I do believe the capacity for self-deception can be large, and so while I was aware that pride was taking root, I did not face it directly. I deeply regret that now, as I make clear in the book, and it is why I chose to begin my memoir with a powerful verse from Proverbs: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but with humility comes wisdom.” I learned firsthand the power of that passage, and it cut with a serrated edge.
LOPEZ: “Even as I write these words, the horror of that morning and the events of that day come back to haunt me with the pain and awfulness I inflicted on others but most especially the three people I love most in the world, my wife and sons. I embarrassed them all deeply in a betrayal rooted in self-centeredness and ambition, both of which were venal.” But Tim, you worked in the White House. Why did you need to show off in your hometown paper?
GOEGLEIN: Your question perfectly encapsulates my failure, and later, my confession and absolution in Christ. I did not need to do what I did, but pride seeks all kinds of vacuums and silos to fill. This is the nature of sin. When it is exposed, there is often no logic to it in hindsight, where everything seems so clear.
Truth has its own logic and provides such a clear way forward in life. But I had chosen the opposite, to be deceptive, and attempted to convey a writing capability I did not believe I had. I have come to see that the three most beautiful words in the English language are the ones T. S. Eliot penned: “Humility is endless.”
LOPEZ: “My life caved in, and it was all of my own doing.” But it didn’t, did it?
GOEGLEIN: When I resigned from the White House on a Friday and departed for home, I felt certain my life to a very large degree was over and that it had caved in. I felt an intense physical and spiritual anguish unequalled in my own experience.
In the political classes, when you embarrass a president, or a senator, or a governor, there is a kind of divorce that normally takes place. Usually, the offender is cut off, persona non grata. And I fully expected that would be my fate. I deserved it for what I had done. I had screwed up entirely, and it was all my fault.
But by God’s grace, that was not my fate, and a new and better chapter of my life would commence in a way I could never have imagined. Providence carried me through in a way I could not comprehend at the time. God was faithful in the midst of my unfaithfulness, and He brought into my path a remarkable family, set of friends, and colleagues who helped me and my family when I and they needed them most.