by Olasky, Marvin
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