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A Final Word with President's Faithful Speechwriter

Michael Gerson might be the highest-profile ghostwriter in the country. Over the last seven years he has written most of President Bush's important speeches, including two inaugural addresses, the president's much-admired speeches after the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as several State of the Union messages and many, many policy statements.

Gerson has been called the moral compass of the White House, a policy provoker; certainly he's a phrasemaker to the president -- starting with "the soft bigotry of low expectations," a passage from the speech Mr. Bush gave when he announced his intention to run for president.

As he prepares to leave the White House later this month, the speechwriter and policy adviser looks back at his five years of work with the president.

Gerson says Bush's frequent religious references are not much different from other presidents.

"I'm somewhat of a student of presidential rhetoric, and it's ... strongly consistent with our history. You'll find the same in John Kennedy and you'll find the same in Franklin Roosevelt and other American presidents who understood that there's a moral context for political events."

But Gerson says that while Bush used religious language, the White House strived not to be sectarian. "The goal is to be welcoming to all faiths and their important role in our common life. But it is a real mistake to try to secularize American political discourse…"

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As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.