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Timely Reading: “The Book of Virtues”

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It’s been a banner week for conservative hypocrisy. It started with the party of small government expressing loyalty to the third-highest ranking GOP Senator, who stated that government has a responsibility to “limit an individual’s wants and passions.” (Of course, there was some consistency in addition to hypocrisy–the week did include the totalitarian lite Loyalty Day.) Then mid-week, here on Blogcritics, conservatives managed somehow to condemn lying while implicitly endorsing it. And yesterday our draft-dodger President dressed up like a toy soldier for a campaign photo-op, to the cheers of conservatives, who surely would have jeered had Clinton tried this stunt.

It was hard to keep up with all that hypocrisy. And now, to finish off the week, Newsweek and the Washington Monthly reveal something surprising-but-not about William Bennett, the professional scold who condemns drug addicts, gays, liberals and…well, just about anybody who isn’t a Judeo-Christian social conservative. The Washington Monthly:

    Few vices have escaped Bennett’s withering scorn. He has opined on everything from drinking to “homosexual unions” to “The Ricki Lake Show” to wife-swapping. There is one, however, that has largely escaped Bennett’s wrath: gambling. This is a notable omission, since on this issue morality and public policy are deeply intertwined. During Bennett’s years as a public figure, casinos, once restricted to Nevada and New Jersey, have expanded to 28 states, and the number continues to grow. In Maryland, where Bennett lives, the newly elected Republican governor Robert Ehrlich is trying to introduce slot machines to fill revenue shortfalls. As gambling spreads, so do its associated problems. Heavy gambling, like drug use, can lead to divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, and bankruptcy. According to a 1998 study commissioned by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, residents within 50 miles of a casino are twice as likely to be classified as “problem” or “pathological” gamblers than those who live further away.

    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. Indeed, in recent weeks word has circulated among Washington conservatives that his wagering could be a real problem. They have reason for concern. The Washington Monthly and Newsweek have learned that over the last decade Bennett has made dozens of trips to casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, where he is a “preferred customer” at several of them, and sources and documents provided to The Washington Monthly put his total losses at more than $8 million.

Newsweek chimes in:

    More than 40 pages of internal casino documents provided to The Washington Monthly and NEWSWEEK paint a picture of a gambler given the high-roller treatment, including limos and tens of thousands of dollars in complimentary hotel rooms and other amenities. In one two-month period, the documents show him wiring more than $1.4 million to cover losses at one casino. In one 18-month stretch, Bennett visited a number of casinos for two or three days at a time. And Bennett must have worried about news of his habit leaking out. His customer profile at one casino lists an address that corresponds to Empower.org, the Web site of Empower America, the group Bennett cochairs. But typed across the form are the words: NO CONTACT AT RES OR BIZ!!!

    Some of Bennett’s losses have been substantial. According to one casino source, on July 12 of last year, Bennett lost $340,000 at Caesars in Atlantic City, and on April 5 and 6 of 2003 he lost more than $500,000 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Some casino estimates put his total losses over the past decade at more than $8 million. “There’s a term in the trade for his kind of gambler,” says a casino source who has witnessed Bennett at the high-limit slots in the wee hours. “We call them losers.”

It goes without saying that William Bennett has every right to wager away his money. It isn’t illegal in the places he’s done it.

However, Bennett has never had any problem with condemning others for perfectly legal behavior, and that, of course, is where the hypocrisy comes in. Homos are wrong for indulging themselves in their sinful desires–but Bennett thinks it’s just fine to sneak off to Vegas and lose several hundred grand in a single midnight-to-6 a.m. gambling binge. If you smoke a joint at your house tonight, Bennett thinks you are immoral. But he has no problem sinking his family’s money into behaviors that the co-chair of his own organization, Empower America, says “pollute our society.” He railed at the culture of our nation for tolerating the sinful acts of President Clinton, yet he has no problem sinking millions of dollars into the economy of a city that has earned, with some justification, the nickname “City of Sin.”

From Chapter One (“Self Discipline”) of The Book of Virtues, by William Bennett:

    In self-discipline one makes a “disciple” of oneself. One is one’s own teacher, trainer, coach and “disciplinarian.” It is an off sort of relationship, paradoxical in its own way, and many of us don’t handle it very well. There is much unhappiness and personal distress in the world because of failures to control tempers, appetites, passions, and impulses. “Oh, if only I had stopped myself” is an all too familiar refrain.

Mr. Bennett, I would also refer you to the following chapters in your own book:

3. Responsibility
8. Honesty

After you work on those for awhile, you can work on:

2. Compassion

I know you’ve spent a lifetime without giving any, but I have a feeling you’re going to be asking for it, Jimmy Swaggart-style, very soon.

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About Brian Flemming