Dispatches > News

Wins & losses

Even in politics, falling down can lead to a new kind of strength

Issue: "2010 Election: The Governors," Oct. 23, 2010

Since 2001, Tim Goeglein had helped run the White House Office of Public Liaison, a heady job that gave him almost daily access to President George W. Bush. All that came to an end on Feb. 29, 2008.

Blogger Nancy Nall Derringer did a web search on an unusual name in a column Goeglein had been writing for several years for his hometown newspaper, the Ft. Wayne (Ind.) News-Sentinel. She discovered Goeglein had copied verbatim a 1998 editorial from the Dartmouth Review. She blogged about the plagiarism, and The News-Sentinel discovered at least 27 of Goeglein's 38 pieces for the paper had been plagiarized. By mid-afternoon the next day, Goeglein's career in the White House was over.

For Goeglein, that began "a personal crisis unequaled in my life, bringing great humiliation on my wife and children, my family, and my closest friends, including the president of the United States." His two-decade political career had included nearly eight years in the White House and stints as spokesman for Gary Bauer's presidential campaign and for former Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., who is again running for the U.S. Senate this year. "But I was guilty as charged," he admitted. Why did he plagiarize? "It was 100 percent pride."

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But what happened next was, Goeglein said, an example of "God's providence and mercy"-something rare in Washington political circles. A call came from White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten saying, "The boss wants to see you." A summons to the Oval Office is normally an honor, but Goeglein didn't want to face the president.

Once inside the Oval Office, Goeglein shut the door, turned to the president, and said, "I owe you an . . ." President Bush simply said: "Tim, you are forgiven." The gregarious Goeglein said, "For the first time in my life, I was speechless."

Goeglein tried again: "But, sir. . ." The president interrupted him again, with a firm "Stop." Then, President Bush added, "I have known grace and mercy in my life and you are forgiven. We can spend our time together talking about the last eight days, or we can spend our time talking about the last eight years."

Goeglein eventually relaxed and sat with the president in the Oval Office for "a long time," sharing memories of the previous eight years.

That launched a healing process for Goeglein. He spent the next year out of the public eye, doing consulting work to support his family and decompressing from the intensity of the White House. It was a time of soul-searching, repentance, and reflection. Goeglein said that even at his lowest point, he had several things going for him: "My faith was unshaken. My family was a rock. Friends and colleagues were grace personified."

Goeglein also met frequently during this period with his pastor, Christopher Esget, of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Va.

In January 2009, he became the Vice President for External Relations at Focus on the Family, representing the ministry in Washington. "Washington, D.C., is the most powerful city on earth," Goeglein said. "It's a place where you can accomplish great things." But he said he now knows another kind of power-the power of love and forgiveness. "Political power can lead to pride," he said. "That was my sin. One hundred percent pride. But offering and receiving forgiveness is a different kind of strength. That's the kind of strength I want to develop now."

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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