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The American Leadership Tradition: Moral Vision from Washington to Clinton Hardcover – February 15, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (February 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684834499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684834498
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #929,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In The American Leadership Tradition, Marvin Olasky sets out to prove the link between private morality and success in political leadership, sketching moral portraits of 10 presidents, with Henry Clay, Booker T. Washington, and John D. Rockefeller thrown in for good measure. George Washington provides Olasky's perfect model to which future presidents should aspire, depicted as loyal to his wife, Martha, and possessing a strong faith in God. Jefferson, in contrast, is portrayed as suspicious of religion--and then, of course, there are his affairs with Sally Hemings and Maria Cosway (a married woman he knew in Paris while serving there as ambassador). "Jefferson's career," Olasky writes, "provides an important example of how even a leader who scorned any Scripture he could not control, and implemented policies contrary to biblical teaching, did not quite wreck a country with a decentralized government and a citizenry committed to preserving both liberty and virtue."

Despite receiving Congressional censure, Andrew Jackson is praised, largely because he was a religious man who read three chapters of the Bible a day, remained faithful to his wife his entire life, and supported smaller central government and term limits for federal officials. Grover Cleveland--a youthful carouser who fathered a child out of wedlock--also benefits from Olasky's political formulation of morality, having fought government growth and attacked a bill aimed at providing pension benefits to Civil War veterans and their families because he felt charity was best left to churches and local organizations, not the federal government.

Olasky's sharpest criticism is given to Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and--unsurprisingly, perhaps--Bill Clinton. All of them were unfaithful to their spouses, and each was self-absorbed, but how thoroughly did their personal qualities damage their presidencies? Olasky is not fully convincing here. His strongest points, ultimately, concern how a president's personal behavior sets the standard for future presidents and affects the public trust: "When shepherds take the wrong path, sheep follow," Olasky concludes. "The United States desperately needs honest and discerning shepherds to lead it into the next century." --Linda Killian

From Publishers Weekly

Readers who haven't gotten their fill of musings on the relationship between sex and power from the nation's op-ed pages and talking heads can turn to Olasky (Renewing American Compassion). The editor of the weekly Christian magazine World seeks to show how religious beliefs and sexual morality influenced the behavior of 13 presidents and statesmen (the non-presidents examined include Booker T. Washington, Henry Clay and John D. Rockefeller). Watergate burglar and born-again minister Chuck Colson pens an introduction, which promises that readers will "thrill over inspiring models of moral leadership in our nation's history." Certainly, Olasky zeroes in on interesting details: Abraham Lincoln once walked out on a prostitute mid-session rather than accept her offer of paying on credit; Theodore Roosevelt could repeat long portions of Scripture at will. But Olasky also barely disguises his censorious delight at listing stale details: FDR cheated on Eleanor; JFK's secretaries performed both on typewriters and under the covers. At the end of the book, Olasky comes to what clearly is the point of this collection of rather humdrum object lessons: he writes the speech that he believes President Clinton should give. Other than the admission of obstruction of justice Olasky puts in the president's mouth, the speech, in its admission of sin (which is Olasky's main point), is remarkably similar to one already given by the president.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Editor-in-chief of WORLD. Holder, Patrick Henry College chair in journalism and public policy. Dean, World Journalism Institute. Senior Fellow, Acton Institute.

Love: Susan and I have been married for 35 years. Four terrific sons and one wonderful daughter-in-law: Peter and Catherine, David, Daniel, and Benjamin

Formal education: B.A. from Yale University in 1971, Ph.D. in American Culture from the University of Michigan in 1976. Real education: Grew up in Judaism, became an atheist and a communist, and then (purely through God's grace) a Christian in 1976.

Other activities over the years: foster parent, Pony League assistant coach, PTA president, board chairman of a crisis pregnancy center and a Christian school, elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Credited (or discredited) with developing the ideas of compassionate conservatism and biblical objectivity.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
This excellent book clearly demonstrates, through historical documents and events, that poor public policy results when Presidents attempt to separate their private lives from their public lives. Compartmentalization of poor moral and ethical behavior and the development of good public policy do not mix.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By H. B. Estabrooks Jr. on May 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
Even though I am an evangelical Christian (as is Olasky) After having read several of the brief biographies in this book, I'm not so sure if factual accuracy was the author's intent, or selective presentation of history in order to make a point.
For instance, Olasky makes a favorable presentation of George Washington as, ostensibly, a Christian motivated by a concern for the will of God, but never once does Olasky mention GW's well-documented progress up through Freemasonry. Which God did Washington concern himself with?
The chapter on Andrew Jackson was interesting, but, having no background with Jackson's history, I can not comment.
On the flip side, I have studied Abraham Lincoln's life extensively, and was entirely befuddled by Olasky's presentation of him. Lincoln soliciting a prostitute as a young man? That's one I've never heard before, even from the modern revisionist biographers. Olasky, presenting unfavorable information about Lincoln, draws heavily on Herndon's (much criticised) biography of Lincoln, even though Herndon had effectively no contact with Lincoln after he became President. Where is Sandburg's biography in Olasky's bibliography? Finally, in order to solidify his view of Lincoln as a mean-spirited man driven by God to exact revenge on the South, Olasky excerpts a section of Lincoln's (comparatively short) Second Inaugural, choosing not to quote the parts of that very same speech that present a competing view.
One last point. While Olasky includes a bibliography for each chapter of his book, there are no footnotes, making it very difficult to check the accuracy of his claims.
Read this book with caution; consider it "semi-fiction".
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By cdhale on September 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book discussed the inter-relation of the private and public life of our elected officials. Of course, this could have a broader application (business, religion, etc). I was impressed with the honesty that Olasky exhibited by not sugar coating the short-comings of some of our greatest American heroes. He also discussed their strengths, victories and missed opportunities. Anyone aspiring to public office, or any leadership position, owes it to themself to get this book and devour it. You will be better for having read it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By irvsyl@tca.net on September 26, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Marvin Olasky reminds readers that we live in glass houses and glass coffins, dimly seen by researchers, that private life forms the basis for public life, and these lives interrelate. By prudently emphasizing morality's importance, Olasky stimulates our thought, arouses our emotions, but in the end helps us understand a practical factor of everyday American life and politics. Realizing that many ideas that significantly influence us today have a long histoy, the author examined the careers of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy and Clinton plus significant leaders Henry Clay, Booker Washington, and John Rockefeller. Moral vision had mixed results. He recognized that moral vision did not guarantee success for Wilson or Carter, yet Washington benefited from strong character. While Cleveland received reasonable attention, what about Cleveland's rival, Benjamin Harrison, a Christian who chose only Christians in his original cabinet? To consider this issue, would be unfair because that would be changing the author's scope. Some readers will reject the importance of morality. sin, repentence, virtues in the writing of American history. Yet, each generation needs to be reminded of that simple, but fascinatingly complex message. Today, we need talented people of character, regardless of race or sex, in all professions. Olasky correctly concluded," We need honest and discerning shepherds to lead this nation into the next century." I recommend this book for the consideration of the general public, journalists, historians, high school and college students.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Reading Fan on August 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
`The American Leadership Tradition' is a hard-hitting, behind-the-scenes look at some of our greatest leaders. I admired Marvin's Olasky's clear, unvarnished view, but retained the right to disagree with some of what he says. His view is that when the president is morally flawed, there are negative consequences. My view is that God can and does work through flawed people, including you and me and everyone else, or we might not even be here to talk about it. There are plenty of examples of this in the Bible; see the story of Joseph in Genesis who was sold into slavery in Egypt for the eventual salvation of Israel.

The first president I voted for was JFK who was seen as a shining light whose only drawback, in the public perception, was that he was Catholic, which was no drawback for me at the time since I was also Catholic. He promised that Catholicism would not affect his stances on issues like birth-control, that he would serve the electorate regardless of his faith, which he did (but because he apparently had no faith). This book gives a sharply different view of Kennedy, saying he was a tireless adulterer, who was as short-sighted and quick in his decision-making as he was in performing sex. Although he was brilliant at times, like in the Cuban Missile Crises, some of his pragmatic decisions had long-lasting, adverse affects, as in the Vietnam War and our relations with Cuba.

According to Olasky, some other presidents like George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and TR were admirable types who diligently tried to follow their faith and its biblical principals. Lincoln was less admirable because he was not as mature in his following of his faith.
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