Reviews for American Leadership Tradition : Moral Vision from Washington to Clinton


Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 December 1998
Conservative Christian journalist Olasky strives to show that, as the slogan says, character matters. He profiles nine presidents, presidential wannabe Henry Clay, and nonpoliticians Booker T. Washington and John D. Rockefeller, correlating their Christianity and sexual behavior with their job performance. The political trend he charts starts at the peak of morality achieved by George Washington; dips and soars through Jefferson (dip), Jackson (soar), Clay (dip), Lincoln (dip then soar), and Cleveland (soar) in the nineteenth century, and in the twentieth, first climbs with Teddy Roosevelt, then plunges through Wilson, FDR, and Kennedy to Clinton, whom Olasky weighs and finds wanting in the last chapter. In order to fully buy Olasky's argument, one has to agree that the growth of the federal Leviathan is bad, and some will be bothered by his silence on Jackson's slaveholding and Teddy Roosevelt's bellicosity. Still, his demonstration that marital fidelity and public truth telling go hand in hand is impressive, as is his awarding the highest marks for personal and public morality to the other Washington--Booker T. ((Reviewed December 15, 1998)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 January 1999
Basco's excellent program in controlling one's perfectionist attitudes and behavior is conveyed by her "step-by-step instructions and exercises for gaining a better understanding of why you think you are never good enough and for making positive changes that will improve your self-esteem." Examples from ordinary people like you and me pepper her text and make personal application of her guidelines much easier; her material is underscored by the concept that perfectionism is not automatically a bad trait, that what any perfectionist needs to know is how to separate the upsides from the downsides and emphasize the advantages while maintaining a firm grip on the disadvantages. This is a serious book, and one of the author's most important discussions is about a common habit of perfectionists, which is "over-simplification," whereby "things are inaccurately viewed as belonging to only one of two simple categories such as right or wrong, good or bad, perfect or not." For consideration for all public library psychology collections. ((Reviewed January 1 & 15, 1999)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 1998 December #2
A work of interpretive opinion, not of fresh historical understanding. The fox, it is said, has many ideas and the hedgehog one. Olasky (Renewing American Compassion, 1996), editor of the Christian magazine World, is a hedgehog here. Unfortunately, his single idea that we must assess religious beliefs and morality if we're to understand the motivations and actions of national leaders is, like many such ideas, unexceptionable and misleading. It's misleading because it's only one of many ways to evaluate presidents. Worse, Olasky likens his approach to that of the great historian, ironist, and prose stylist Richard Hofstadter. But while, like Hofstadter, Olasky has written a book composed of portraits in his case of 13 presidents and other leaders unlike Hofstadter's essays, Olasky's lack subtlety, weight, and often accuracy. What are we to make of a claim that American forces won the battle of Saratoga in 1778 not because of superior skills and the normal turns of fortune, but because the British commander was in bed with his mistress? Or that Woodrow Wilson was little more than a hypocrite? What this book lacks is nuance and balance. Which is a pity, for Olasky is onto something important: that many, probably all, American presidents have been flawed. We need to recognize that fact and to acknowledge that a democratic republic is not likely to have saints for chief executives. We're also justified in assessing personal character in evaluating and voting for presidents. But are there no other considerations a president's vision (Jefferson's), political skills (FDR's), or deep moral sense (Lincoln's) to bring to bear in assessing the character and achievements of our top elected officials? Must a single approach to assessing presidents the moralistic one be used to the exclusion of all others? This book strains credulity by suggesting that the answer is yes. (12 illustrations, not seen) (For another look at presidential ethics, see Richard Shenkman, Presidential Ambition, p. 1784) Copyright 1998 Kirkus Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1999 January #3
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. (Feb.) Copyright 1999 Publishers Weekly Reviews

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