They call it Potomac Fever. Named after the river that borders half of Washington, like a moat around a castle, this disease is prevalent: affecting both political parties, many (though not all) lobbyists, and even faith-based groups headquartered in our nation's capital. A lack of consistent physical symptoms make it difficult to diagnose, as all indicators are moral and ethical: Deception, manipulation, hidden agendas.
It's a cancer that eats away at the soul, a hunger for power, control, money and recognition that decays one's character and decision-making ability. Its spread is rampant, its damage deep ... and the Cure little-known.
Reality looks bleak. "What can men do against such reckless hate?" as King Theoden mourned in The Lord of the Rings. Is there no place for people of conviction and courage in the halls of power?
Unbeknownst to them, a group of Washingtonians were recently introduced to Potomac Fever's antidote by a former White House staffer named Tim Goeglein. Though advertised as a premiere for his book The Man in the Middle, they were in for much more. Tim spent his half-hour in front of these experts and government officials (plus a few stragglers like me) sharing what few had ever heard in a public speech: A confession without excuses.
Tim had worked for eight years in the White House, serving at the pleasure of President George W. Bush. Those years teemed with God's work in and through his life. Tim saw firsthand a friendship develop between the President and Pope John Paul II, directly influencing our nation's shunning of embryonic stem cell research and partial-birth abortion. When two Supreme Court vacancies came up, Tim had a hand in ensuring these two new justices would be leaders who upheld the original intent of our Constitution.
And in America's darkest hour, the president called on Tim to plan a remembrance service at National Cathedral. On Sept. 14, 2001, a truly red-letter day, Rev. Billy Graham consoled the grieving with God's Word and preached the Gospel to hundreds of millions worldwide via every major TV news network.
Yet a decade later here was Tim, speaking not of these great deeds but revealing his own dark night of the soul. In 2008, during the heightened political tension of an election year, a reporter sent Tim a simple e-mail on a Friday. He asked about a column Tim wrote for his hometown newspaper: had he taken the work of other writers and passed it off as his own? Yes, he had. Tim knew his own pride and self-interest had caught up to him. He knelt at his desk and prayed. His life was about to change.
Tim resigned from the White House after nearly eight years of working for President Bush, a tenure stretching back to campaign days in Austin, Texas, and the election recount debacle in Florida. Now the media sharks smelled blood in the water. Evidence of their feeding frenzy can still be seen on Google.
That weekend he grieved, both the shame he caused the president and his loss -- as he expected the plagiarism scandal meant an end to any connection with the Bush family. But that's not what happened.
Going back to his old office to retrieve personal items the next Monday, Tim was stopped by the Chief of Staff: "Could you come to my office in the West Wing?" Surely this would be the woodshed moment.
Not long after, Tim found himself standing once again before President Bush in the Oval Office.
"Mr. President, I owe you a ..." he began.
The president stopped him. "Tim, I want you to know I forgive you."
He pressed on: “But, Mr. President, you should take me by the lapels and toss me into Pennsylvania Avenue. I embarrassed you and the team; I am so sorry.”
“Tim, you are forgiven,” President Bush said again, “and mercy is real. Now we can talk about this, or we can spend some time together talking about the last eight years.” They did. And before his former staffer left, the president had only one request: For Tim to come back with his wife and sons, so they could hear personally how he felt about Tim's years of service.
A hush fell over the Washington crowd as Tim recounted his story of forgiveness. It wasn't political maneuvering, clever marketing or anything he did that gave him that glorious moment of redemption. It was undeserved, only received in a place of humility. Once again, the Gospel was preached by an unlikely mouthpiece in unexpected circumstances.
No one is immune from Potomac Fever. Thankfully, God gives us forerunners who've gone ahead to tell their stories, make us aware when we're susceptible to the disease and identify certain mindsets as "quarantine" for His sons and daughters.
Salvation is the only Cure. And it's a process, not an event.
Prior to his current position at a think tank in Washington, Josh Shepherd served as Executive Assistant for Tim Goeglein of Focus on the Family. Josh blogs at TheCivilRoar.com.
The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era (B&H Books, 2011) by Tim Goeglein is available now in bookstores everywhere and on Amazon.com.
Publication date: November 17, 2011