Conservative author Marvin Olasky takes issue with "Avenging Angel of the Religious Right"; readers weigh in on President Bush's "missing year" from the National Guard.

By Salon Staff
February 12, 2004 5:34AM (UTC)
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[Read "Avenging Angel of the Religious Right" by Max Blumenthal.]

Salon's Jan. 6 story, "Avenging Angel of the Religious Right," depicted a Howard Ahmanson unrecognizable to his friends and perhaps even to his critics. I have a loose sense of the factual errors concerning the Ahmansons, but knowledge of those concerning me.


Here are three to start with. I was not a "Marxist who then converted to Rushdoony's Reconstructionism"; when I became a Christian in 1976 I had never heard of Rushdoony, and I am not one of his followers. The book Turning Point did not gain a Washington following that led to a Heritage Foundation gig for me; my one-year appointment grew out of research on philanthropy with the Capital Research Center. Howard Ahmanson's foundation has given me grants that helped with the writing of four of the 30 books and monographs listed on my c.v., but that's not exactly the same as "financing the career of Marvin Olasky."

Also, labeling me "the most influential propagandist of the Christian right" is inaccurate in three respects. I'm not all that influential; I'm notorious for coming up with research results (such as my finding that lots of abortion occurred in the 19th century, when it was illegal) that undercut Christian right applause lines; and, for that reason, some folks on the Christian right don't consider me one of them. But here's one element of the story that is true: Howard and I are "dear friends," and he has brilliant insights that would be helpful to Salon readers if they were offered something more than a cartoon.

-- Marvin Olasky


Max Blumenthal responds:

Olasky says that he was not a convert to the ultraconservative religious thought of R.J. Rushdoony's Reconstructionism, and Salon has corrected my article to reflect his statement of his beliefs. But convert or not, Olasky has certainly been influenced by Rushdoony's ideas. In the interest of brevity, here are a few points that demonstrate the intellectual relationship between the two conservative Christian thinkers:

  • Olasky's books are replete with references to the work of Reconstructionist authors. As Joseph Conn wrote for Americans United for Separation of Church and State: "Although no one seems to have noticed, one clear source of Olasky's thinking is Christian Reconstructionism, the most extreme fringe of the Religious Right ... In his 1988 book, 'Prodigal Press: The Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media,' Olasky praises Rushdoony's analysis of the Ninth Commandment and says, 'Rousas Rushdoony provides a useful discussion of the many aspects of that commandment in his important book "The Institutes of Biblical Law."'"

  • According to the Institute for Democracy Studies, a think tank that monitors anti-democratic movements in America, Olasky was tutored by the Reconstructionist author George Grant. (To see the citation, click here and go to Page 6.) Olasky also hired Grant as an editor and book reviewer for his World Magazine.

  • On some fundamental points, Olasky's language dovetails with Rushdoony's. He once told a reporter: "All the stuff we [Christian journalists] do, such as putting out newspapers, doesn't matter. I don't think that's the way God works. I think God calls us to be stewards, to take dominion over the world."

    Olasky's letter also contests the notion that his career was financed by Howard Ahmanson Jr., the right-wing evangelical millionaire who was the subject of my piece. Ahmanson only funded four of his 30 books, Olasky says. It is true that in addition to Ahmanson, multinational corporations like DuPont and various right-wing foundations have invested in Olasky or the foundations and think tanks that have employed him. Nevertheless, Ahmanson's funding of Olasky's early work when he was an unknown journalism professor propelled Olasky's rise to political influence. Furthermore, Olasky's letter doesn't mention that Ahmanson paid him throughout a seven-year period (1987-'94) to edit the 16-book series "Turning Point: A Christian Worldview."

    Finally, Olasky claims he is not "the most influential propagandist of the Christian right," omitting the last four words of my sentence. I wrote that Olasky is "the most influential propagandist of the Christian right in the past decade."

    "Influence" is difficult to quantify. But on his résumé, Olasky lists achievements like providing "counsel on welfare reform during 1995 and 1996 with about 50 United States senators and representatives and numerous state legislators." He also advised George W. Bush both as governor and presidential candidate on welfare policy and presided over the creation of the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives. And in 1994, Newt Gingrich acknowledged Olasky as the intellectual author of "compassionate conservatism," telling the nation: "Our models are Alexis De Tocqueville and Marvin Olasky."

    [Read "Bush's Missing Year" by Eric Boehlert.]

    Though the so-called mainstream media is apparently too pathetic to realize it, there is one simple question to ask Bush: "Name one human being you served with in Alabama?"

    My goodness! Bush is president of the U.S., there are people telling friends they went to grade school with him, or college, or knew him when he was in business -- yet no one has come forward to say, "Hey, I served with the guy"?

    That defies common sense, yet the right wing (as usual) manages to get the story to be about anything other than common-sense analysis. Come on, if any one of us knew Clinton or Bush at any time we would be telling someone. And if it were at issue, someone would be screaming about it -- especially in Alabama, where any person who saves Bush's reputation would be treated as a hero.

    We do not need stories about torn documents; we just need one obvious question: "Name one person you served with in Alabama"

    -- Vince

    You might want to look at Kevin Phillips' "American Dynasty," especially Pages 44-45, in particular Page 45, Paragraph 3. Here Phillips describes Bush's "unusual" employment at an organization called PULL, working with minority children, which his father chaired. He remained there through the summer of 1973, and then went directly to Harvard Business School. He quotes J.H. Hatfield, who in "Fortunate Son" charged that this community service resulted from a 1972 cocaine arrest.

    Also take a look at Phillips Page 89 regarding the issuance of an out-of-sequence driver's license in 1995 -- after Bush became governor -- which some suggest was done to eliminate the record of past infractions. The new one was issued two months after Bush was inaugurated and contained no records. He had just named an old friend to the agency that issued licenses -- the TX Dept of Public Safety.

    All coincidences, perhaps, but if the press is interested in Bush's truthfulness this time around, maybe we'll get a fuller picture of this frat boy with silver-spoon connections.

    -- Suzanne Cavilia

    Kudos to Boehlert. This article is the best I've read about Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard (TANG) during another war.

    I'm a retired (1999) Army colonel with enlisted active service in the USMC (1967-'69), and I also was piqued by questions about Bush's service in the TANG in the last presidential campaign. One doesn't have to denigrate service in the National Guard, as the president intimated in his interview on "Meet the Press," to comment that service there was a way of avoiding more arduous and dangerous service in the active force, since President Johnson made an early decision to fight the war with draftees and not to call up the Reserve or National Guard forces. Bush himself admitted he never volunteered for service there.

    Today, President Bush is not only the commander in chief, leading our nation's armed forces, but also, in his own words, is a "war president," who has used the uniform to garner political support. The question as to whether he fulfilled his obligation to the Texas Air National Guard (TANG) during another war, therefore, is germane to his fitness to serve as president and his reelection.

    I also requested and received a copy of his releasable records from the Army and Air National Guard Bureau in late 2000. Without doubt, there is absolutely no evidence about the president's duty in Alabama in the summer and fall of 1972. Normally, an Air Force Form 190 documents attendance at drills; Bush's records are replete with entries on this form -- but only up to May 1972. If he served in Alabama, there would be a letter, report or form documenting it. Moreover, he departed for Alabama without first obtaining approval to serve in a unit there. That is hardly conduct to be commended or condoned.

    But the report raises a bigger question: Why didn't he attend any drills in his TANG unit after he returned to Texas from Alabama sometime around November 1972? That's five months of "no show." The 1973 report even suggests that his unit commander didn't even know Lt. Bush was back in Texas.

    There are documents in his record that purport to show that he made up lost time after receiving two special orders commanding him to active duty. But this supposed active service is not documented on the proper form, Air Force Form 190, as are all his previous active duty stints in the TANG. The form documenting these purported active duty points is unsigned and undated, and, therefore, not credible. There is no signed, official document in his record showing that he earned any active duty points after May 1972. In fact, his Form 2, documenting service with a final entry of October 1973, clearly states he earned only 22 active duty training points in 1972; none are listed for 1973, and the "last paid" entry, although blurred on my copy, looks like 1972. The article, therefore, was wrong about his duty in the summer of 1973.

    As to the origin of these questionable documents, the article was correct about allegations that his TANG record was doctored. It failed to mention a charge by a former TANG lieutenant colonel, Bill Burkett, that the president's records were "scrubbed" of any derogatory information when he was governor and in charge of the TANG. Could someone close to the president have put this questionable form in his file to cover the gap in service? A simple forensic analysis of the paper in his file would answer this question. Altering and destroying official records are, by the way, a federal offense under 18 USC section 2071.

    There are, however, other shortcomings in the file needing explanation that the article seemingly glosses over or doesn't mention. He failed to take his flight physical and was grounded in written orders dated Sept. 19, 1972. Did he not have an obligation to take it? Some research on the regulations would provide proof that he was in violation not only of a standing order, because there is absolutely no evidence he ever took a flight physical and flew after 1972, but also of written orders directing him to take it: "Off[icer] will comply with para[graph] 2-10, A[ir] F[orce] M[annual] 35-13"; the orders were signed by a major general.

    Additionally, his officer efficiency rating by the same officers was lower in 1972 than in 1971. Normally, such a report was the kiss of death for an officer. Why was he rated lower in his "Performance of Duties" block in 1972 than in 1971?

    During the last presidential campaign, the president claimed that he flew for "several years" after earning his wings. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines "several" as "a number more than two or three." His record, however, only documents 22 months of flying. Such exaggeration and obfuscation is hardly in keeping with the president's promise to restore "dignity and honor to the White House."

    The president should formally authorize release of all his records including any microfiche at the Reserve Personnel Center, not just those in his TANG file, so that the American people accurately can judge his fitness to lead our troops in war.

    -- Gerald A. Lechliter

    I was in the USAF, active duty, from 1967 to 1971. The Air National Guard was a coveted way out from military service, and one that those of us caught up by the draft and fear of it disdained.

    So we were delighted with the "failure to show" Guardsmen in our basic training. It was an encouragement to all of us.

    I don't believe any of our brothers in arms were sons of congressmen.

    By the way, you are welcome to review my military records at any time.

    -- Jack Duggan

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