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Religious people who won't shut up

"Religious people who won't shut up" Continued...

Issue: "The plots thicken," Jan. 12, 2008

WORLD: But one reason the current system doesn't work is because the tax structure allows deductions in certain ways for businesses and not individuals. Is the problem the market system or the lack of a market?

GERSON: The reforms to pursue would subsidize the individuals to buy their own health care. You'd make a refundable kind of tax credit-something like that. But if you were to just remove government entirely, you wouldn't get a just outcome in health care. It's expensive. Poor people would just get health care in emergency rooms. Government-run health-care systems are disastrous, particularly when it comes to innovation. You need a predominantly private health-care system, but you also need an ethic of common provision, as some people aren't going to be able to afford this.

WORLD: So a conservatism that respects mixed-up reality.

GERSON: This is consistent with a conservatism that takes real circumstances seriously. It's not rigidly ideological like libertarianism is. I find much libertarian thought to be utopian, and that's not the way that markets and individuals work. To me the proper mix is to essentially have predominantly private market-oriented systems that also make a provision for those who have particular challenges.

PROFESSOR: The New York Times magazine had an article about shifting definitions in evangelicalism and how quickly it's falling apart . . .

GERSON: The Times as usual wants to cover it as a "crack-up" when in fact there's at least some maturity in it. . . . Evangelicals are still pro-life and pro-family. I haven't found much disagreement on that, but a belief that there has to be a broadening of your conception of social justice and it has to include economic and racial justice at home, not through coercive government means but through some means.

An amazing number of people have been engaged in African issues. That is also a reflection of one of the large unreported historical trends of our time, the movement of the center of gravity of Christianity to the global south. I find people in the evangelical community exhausted with Iraq just like the rest of Americans. But I don't find them turning to pacifism. I don't find a lot of people turning to the religious left.

PROFESSOR: Let's say your ideas for heroic conservatism become the consensus view of the conservative movement. What do you think the movement has to accomplish in order to actually have its message heard?

GERSON: I believe in rhetoric. I love the history of American political rhetoric, but one lesson I brought out of government is that sometimes there is a limit to the power of words. Americans eventually respond to the situation on the ground. The media pounce on you when you're down. They go after the weak.

WORLD: Many students here are good writers. Do you recommend speechwriting? How did you get into it?

GERSON: I actually always recommend Capitol Hill as the best place to get an introduction to American politics. I worked for Sen. Dan Coats. Capitol Hill is a great place to learn a variety of issues and to be a writer, because it allowed me not to be a health-care expert (which is fairly narrow) but to deal with international and domestic issues and to get a good grounding in American politics.

The ability to write is a rare ability in America. It is not generally taught to lawyers, and there are a lot of lawyers on Capitol Hill. Congressional offices are always looking for someone with the ability to write.

-For some excerpts on foreign policy from the Gerson interview, please go to


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