Skip to comments.Booking Bennett
Posted on 05/05/2003 11:02:18 AM PDT by moneyrunner
I guess Aesop's Fables are now wrong.
You see, Bill Bennett's Book of Virtues contained various moral lessons from Aesop's Fables. So, if Bill Bennett has made a mistake in his personal life, he must have been wrong about the educational utility of everything in his book. And, come to think of it, every other virtue and moral and fable and story he ever promoted, advanced, or advocated must be wrong now as well. It's okay for kids to do drugs now, too, I suppose. And I guess it's okay for the president of the United States to enforce sexual-harassment laws while he plays the Sultan and the Slave Girl with an intern and then lies about it under oath. Hell, it must be okay for terrorists to blow up the World Trade Center now.
This sea change is all because Bill Bennett plays high-stakes video poker from midnight to 6:00 AM.
That seems to be the upshot of Joshua Green's and Jonathan Alter's newsitorials about Bill Bennett's gambling.
I find it hard to recall a more asinine and intellectually shameless "gotcha" story in my adult lifetime.
Before I sound like I'm protesting too much, let me get all of the full-disclosure and "yes, but" stuff out of the way. I'm a big believer in the looking-for-trouble school of life. Bennett bet millions in an environment where he had to know getting caught would likely get him in a lot of trouble. I think Bennett gambles too much and I completely understand why opponents of gambling and decent people generally are disappointed in Bennett. Also, I should note that I don't know Bennett that well. I've had one lunch with him and a total of maybe 20 minutes of conversation with him beyond that. I am close friends with some of his close friends. I've known about his gambling for years (though certainly not the dollar amounts) and I've been astounded by both the media's failure to catch him and the recklessness of Bennett's behavior not the moral recklessness, necessarily, but the political recklessness. Many liberals despise Bill Bennett and until now their potshots rested on such inanities as his weight and his success. Now, fair or not, many liberal pundits will make snide comments about Bennett's gambling in a quasi-McCarthyite way "Billy the Greek" or some such as if they are alluding to some scandal we all know about that need not be explained.
But there is no scandal. Yes, Bennett made mistakes. And yes, I can surely see why some religious conservatives who take a dim view of gambling might be disappointed in the man. But I can assure you that any man or woman held in high esteem will disappoint the public in one way or another when scrutinized. "Disappointment," however, is not a standard taught at the Columbia School of Journalism. Usually, to have caused a "scandal," a public figure is supposed to have broken the law, lied, cheated, stolen, been hypocritical, or victimized someone in some significant way. But no one has charged any of these things. The only conceivable victims here are the Bennett family, and a little bird tells me that they'll do just fine. The same bird tells me that Alter and Green couldn't give a fig about Bennett's family. As for hypocrisy, neither author mentions the word.
Indeed, the stunner of the story that Bennett wagered $8 million over the last decade isn't even as stunning as Green and Alter desperately want it to be. There isn't any evidence that he lost $8 million dollars, only that he's bought $8 million in chips over a decade. If, as is more likely, his losses are half that, he'd have spent less than what numerous movie stars and CEOs spend on their country estates, private jets, and divorces.
Even the authors of the articles admit that the only thing Bennett has done is spend a lot of money on something you wouldn't expect Bill Bennett to be spending his money on. In other words, the "news" here is not that a "moralizer" or "virtuecrat" has betrayed his convictions, broken the law, or anything of the sort. The news here is that he likes to have a good time in a perfectly legal and unhypocritical way. But, the manner in which he has a good time shocks liberals who think "moralizers" can't enjoy life. We don't drink, except maybe in that bitter-white-guy way. We don't tell dirty jokes except perhaps as racists or sexists. We're either prudes or hypocrites or both. And so, when a prominent conservative "moralist" ends up behaving in a way that seems inappropriate in the light of liberal assumptions about conservatives, it must be newsworthy. If that behavior embarrasses him in front of religious conservatives all the better.
In fact, you can always tell there's a hit job in the works when the victim is criticized for not being hypocritical. "The popular author, lecturer and Republican Party activist speaks out, often indignantly, about almost every moral issue except one gambling," writes Alter in Newsweek. "It's not hard to see why." Green is windier on this point, but writes, "If Bennett hasn't spoken out more forcefully on an issue that would seem tailor-made for him, perhaps it's because he is himself a heavy gambler." In other words, if Bennett had spoken out against gambling he'd have been denounced for hypocrisy. And if Bennett had spoken in favor of gambling, he'd have been denounced for defending his preferred vice. If he's in the crosshairs for A, he'd surely be in the crosshairs for not-A as well.
But the real sign that this is payback of a kind can be found in Green's comparisons to impeachment. Green slyly notes that Bennett "gambled throughout impeachment" as if this somehow compounds Bennett's iniquity. Excuse me, but what does one have to do with the other? Casino gambling, as Green notes, is state-sanctioned in 28 states. Throw in lotteries and you can count on one hand the number of states that don't endorse gambling. Meanwhile, lying under oath, "sleeping" with interns, minting bogus legal privileges to protect one's private conduct, etc., are not to the best of my knowledge sanctioned in any state. Local governments do not put up billboards reading "Live Your Dreams: Boink the Interns." Bennett is not in charge of enforcing the laws on gambling, the way Clinton was in charge of enforcing sexual-harassment laws. Bennett never promised the country in a 60 Minutes interview during a presidential campaign that he would never gamble again. I could go on, but ultimately the only similarity between the two cases is the one imposed on it by those who dislike "moralizing" conservatives.
WE'RE ALL HYPOCRITES NOW
This brings me to why these articles bother me so much. First of all, the real hypocrites here are the authors. Jonathan Alter and The Washington Monthly expended a lot of energy over the Clinton years making the case that private sins are off-limits, even when they affect public acts. Apparently, this is only the case for public figures they like. If you believe that personal privacy is the sanctum sanctorum of liberal democracy, you have to believe that's the case for people you dislike too. If you don't, then you simply believe privacy is something for the good guys.
Now, I don't agree with that. If Bennett were running for office, for example, his gambling would certainly be fair game. As it would be if Bennett had been either a pro-gambling crusader or an anti-gambling crusader. But he's not. This raises the first of many ironies. Bennett's gambling, as a private citizen, justifies public exposure according to his critics. But, they say, Clinton's adultery never mind the steamer trunk of lies and other sins he lugged into the Oval Office should have been off-limits. At first glance, this equation would seem to imply that quietly participating in a perfectly legal and state-promoted activity out of public view is a graver sin than rogering the 'terns in the Oval Office and committing perjury to conceal the act (see Jonathan Last for more on this point).
Say whatever you want about how much Bennett was asking for this, it doesn't excuse the hypocrisy of those who say that private vices should be off-limits. If you believe the private acts of homosexuals, recreational drug users, Wiccans, etc., are off limits, you should believe the private lives of upright Catholics aren't fair game either. Some anti-impeachment liberals get this. Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, said Sunday on CNN:
I don't like William Bennett, but I actually agree mostly with Jonah. . . . This is something he did in his private life, and I'm the kind of liberal who believes that basically what people do in their private lives, unless there's some blatant, serious hypocrisy, is really not anyone's business.
WE'RE ALL "MORALIZERS" NOW, TOO
But the biggest reason I find these Bennett articles so troublesome is what they reveal about the kind of society we're building. Hypocrisy is bad, but it's not the worst vice in the world. If I declared "murder is wrong" and then killed somebody, I would hope that the top count against me would be homicide, not hypocrisy. Liberal elites particularly in Hollywood believe that hypocrisy is the gravest sin in the world, which is why they advocate their own lifestyles for the entire world: Sleep with whomever you want, listen to your own instincts, be true to yourself, blah, blah, blah. Our fear of hypocrisy is forcing us to live in a world where gluttons are fine, so long as they champion gluttony.
In fact, let's take gluttony as an example. Let's say that Bennett is guilty of the sin of gluttony. Having had lunch with him, this is not a wild-eyed hypothesis. Does that mean Bennett would be a more admirable person if he advocated that we all become overeaters? Bennett reasonably compares gambling to drinking alcohol (another form of gluttony). Should Bennett go on Larry King Live and celebrate the joys of crapulence? That's the logical upshot of Green's Washington Monthly piece (and Josh Marshall's defense of it). If we speak out against any vice we must not only speak out against all of them, we must not be guilty of any of them even the ones we ourselves do not see as a vice. And if we are guilty, we should defend our sin, own it, celebrate it, even to the point of claiming it was never a sin at all. Because if we don't, we will be guilty of hypocrisy.
Take Madonna. Not to put too fine a point on it: She was a slut and she preached the joys of sluttiness to everyone, rich and poor, young and old. That made her rich and something of a feminist hero because she was an "authentic" slut, feeling no guilt or shame about it. Today, with millions upon millions in the bank she says she's not only given up her trampy ways, she realizes she was wrong all along. And, again, she's being saluted for it in profiles and interviews throughout the media (this is something I started complaining about years ago see here and here).
So does this mean that being a slut was a good thing when Madonna said it was a good thing? Were the 16-year-old girls who followed her example in 1985 right for following it then? Were the consequences of following Madonna's example pregnancy, AIDS, even (shudder) low self-esteem somehow nonexistent back then because only the "moralizers" were warning about them? Or could it just possibly mean that the "moralizers" who were sneered at by the mainstream press were right all along and that Madonna is only now coming to her senses? Madonna can afford her sins. She says she can "handle" motherhood while at the same time bragging that she's never changed a diaper.
Well, Bennett can afford his sins, too. But just as a glutton would be a moral fool to champion gluttony to someone with a heart condition, Bennett understands that a gambler would be a moral fool to champion gambling to people who cannot afford it. Not so, though, according to Green:
Bennett is a wealthy man and may be able to handle losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Of course, as the nation's leading spokesman on virtue and personal responsibility, Bennett's gambling complicates his public role. Moreover, it has already exacted a cost. Like him or hate him, William Bennett is one of the few public figures with a proven ability to influence public policy by speaking out. By furtively indulging in a costly vice that destroys millions of lives and families across the nation, Bennett has profoundly undermined the credibility of his word on this moral issue.
You might have missed the word "furtively" there. Furtive means "secretly" or "in stealth." The clear implication being that Bennett would have been less guilty of whatever it is he's guilty of if he hadn't been "furtive" about it. This is 100 percent wrong. His furtiveness is morally redeeming, not damning. The hypocrisy fetishists seem to believe that our role models and spokesmen should be perfect perfect in their sinfulness or perfect in their saintliness. And, at all times they should be proselytizers of both. What a morally unserious and dangerous way to organize a society.
Bennett is a big, sloppy Irish Catholic guy from Brooklyn who believes in old-fashioned morality and decency. He's not perfect, but he's been focusing our attention on the right things. When charged with hypocrisy, Max Scheler the moral philosopher who dallied with the ladies responded that the sign pointing to Boston doesn't have to go there. America is a better place because Bennett pointed in the right direction. Tearing him down is a sorry, pitiful, and deeply hypocritical way for supposed champions of privacy to tear down the man instead of his arguments. If you disagree, fine. Tell me where he was wrong. Don't tell me that the messenger is a sinner we all knew that. Tell me what's wrong with the message. What passage in The Book of Virtues was invalidated when Bennett put the first $500 chip into the machine?
Oh, and one last thing. You might have noticed that I keep putting quotation marks around the word "moralizer." I do this for the simple reason that Green, Alter, Marshall, and the legions of other liberals who don't like "moralizers" are shocking hypocrites if not outright liars. Everyone moralizes. The suggestion that liberals aren't moralizers is so preposterous it makes it hard for me to take any of them seriously when they wax indignant about "moralizers." Almost everyday, they tell us what is moral or immoral to think and to say about race, taxes, abortion you name it. They explain it would be immoral for me to spend more of my own money on my own children when that money could be spent by government on other peoples' children. In short, they think moralizing is fine. They just want to have a monopoly on the franchise.
I sure hope so.....................
This gambling BS has been ridiculous.
Don't be perplexed. This crowd would defend Hilary Clinton, Saddam Hussein and Ho Chi Minh if they called themselves Republicans. You are asking for introspection from automatons.
And you are right on about Bill "Just Call me God" Bennett.
What are the odds on that?
That's a strong charge. Why is he a "phony" for dropping some of his dough into a slot machine?
Please try and make your point without strained analogies to the WOD.
I see the same screen names taking after Bill B: the WOD fundamentalists, for whom all is invested in the pursuit of making weed legal (I don't oppose that, just the fanatic zeal); and the Church Ladies.
Since I am not a Bennett fan, I assume you lump me into one of these groups. First, which one? And second, based on my past postings (review them if you wish), how do I qualify as either a Church Lady or as one who wants to legalize pot?
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