BENNETT : ace of hearts
(B, CH, L) (what
do these signs mean?)
the most interesting strategy pursued by the Radical
Right is their irritating claim to moral superiority.
Among the self-righteously smug, Bill Bennett has been
among the worst. He is intimately associated with the
"culture war," particularly beginning in the
1980s, where he blamed people more "liberal"
than he for virtually all our problems.
served as former chair of the National Endowment of
the Humanities and Secretary of Education under President
Reagan, and under President Bush the Elder, Drug Czar,
where he advocated a hard line against all drug use.
He also wrote, or rather compiled, many books, most
importantly The Book of Virtues, and most ironically
given his lack of military service, Why We Fight.
Bennett has done very well as the Radical Right's favorite
cultural scold, pulling in as much as $50,000 for a
lecture on virtue.
Bennett has been in the news due to his gambling habit.
We will discuss the issue briefly, primarily as an example
of far more serious failings on his part: hypocrisy
and dishonesty. As our readers may or may not know,
Bennett was discovered to have lost as much as $8 million
dollars gambling, primarily in Las Vegas and Atlantic
City. His preferred games in the casinos are slot machines
and video poker. No one is perfect, but the immense
scale of his losses combined with Bennett's eagerness
to be a spokesperson for "virtue" at $50,000
a pop does put his actions in a peculiar light. He charges
more for speaking one night on virtue than most of us
earn in a year.
initial defense was: "I view it [gambling] as drinking.
If you can't handle it, don't do it." This is identical
to one of the most common arguments by people who smoke
marijuana. They can handle it, so leave them alone.
This libertarian argument, if he consistently followed,
would leave Bennett with a lot less to say. For example,
many of the pot smokers he worked so hard to put in
jail probably could have made the argument with much
more truthfulness than Bennett's defense of his gambling.
For Bennett to apply reasoning in defense of his own
actions that he rejects when used by others is hypocrisy.
addition, the organization of which Bennett is co-chair,
"Empower America," actively opposes extending
casino gambling across the US. Does Bennett believe
that gambling should be available to people who can
"handle it," if they are rich enough to fly
frequently to Vegas and Atlantic City, and otherwise
barred unless they live close by? If not, and if hypocrisy
has any meaning at all, Bennett's a hypocrite twice
over. Whatever income he received from Empower America
helped support his gambling. We are sure the contributors
would have approved. Maybe that explains his secrecy
claims that because no one is perfect, he isn't hypocritical.
This doesn't work because of the way he attacks
others whose morals don't live up to his standards.
Most of us praise virtues we wish we better exemplified.
But we don't charge people lots of money to talk about
them. If he ever referred to his personal failings to
demonstrate a more compassionate approach to dealing
with others' failings, we'd give him a pass. But compassion
seems to be a sound bite for the Radical Right, not
a word with any real meaning.
is apparently also a liar. How else can we make sense
of the following statements? When the size of his gambling
losses first became public knowledge, Bennett said:
"Over 10 years, I'd say I've come out pretty close
to even." He elaborated, "You don't see what
I walk away with," Bennett says. "They [casinos]
don't want you to see it."
Bennett has changed his tune. In an interview with Tim
Russert Bennett said the following:
RUSSERT: Did you lose a lot of money?
BILL BENNETT: I lost money. Overall, you lose money.
And that's a-- important lesson, I think-- you can
draw a lesson here. You will lose at the end of the
day. They say it's not hard to-- win, it's hard to
leave winning. And that's true, the house-- the house
will get you. I didn't lose what's been reported in
TIM RUSSERT: $8 million.
BILL BENNETT: No, of course not. Certainly not.
TIM RUSSERT: But significant sums.
BILL BENNETT: I-- I lost-- I lost enough money to--
to make a difference-- in terms of-- you know,-- (CLEARS
THROAT) counting up has made a difference in our lives.
But-- I'd-- I certainly know what I lost.
I-- I don't really think-- the amounts are anybody's
business but-- the family's and the I.R.S.. But, yeah,
I lost. And-- over eight or ten years, you will lose.
in this interview, he appeared to lie again. Bennett
said ". . . I never claimed privacy about the fact
that I was gambling. I was very public about it."
And "Look-- (CLEARS THROAT) you know, the-- one
thing about my relationship with the American people
is I've been honest, I've been truthful. And I'm being
honest and truthful-- truthful here."
MSNBC reports that "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 BIZ111"
was public about his gambling, but he was not public
about its scale. As MSNBC showed, he apparently tried
to hide it. Bennett seems to be Bush's
equal in dissembling. A little poker with some judges,
an occasional trip to Vegas, is quite different from,
as MSNBC reported, having to wire more than, $1.4 million
to cover losses at one casino. Scale matters.
on Bennett and the truth
Bennett's lack of truthfulness regarding gambling is
not an isolated failing. In fact, he has shown remarkable
disregard for truth when he wants to make a point. For
example, Bennett is a long time critic of homosexuals.
On ABC's This Week Nov. 9, 1997, Bennett told
his audience that homosexuality "takes 30 years
off your life." He repeated his charge that November
to the The Weekly Standard. This is not true.
Slate explains why.
seems to have problems with statistics on more than
gays. Basically, evidence that contradicts his argument
that liberals are the source of all failings and cultural
conservatives the source of all virtue seems to get
treated a bit cavalierly. The second edition of Bennett's
The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators plays
fast and loose with inconvenient information about things
getting better. Again, Slate offers the evidence.
on a still bigger scale
Bennett gained fame for attacking violent themed rap
songs. And certainly there is little, if any, good in
many of these violent lyrics. But while Bennett was
denouncing violence in rap he was appearing on the Bob
Grant talk radio show, and even running ads there, helping
to subsidize Grant's broadcasts. What does Grant say?
How about, "I'd like to get every environmentalist,
put 'em up against a wall and shoot 'em."
his approval of violence, Grant adds enough vulgar racism
to make Trent Lott blush:
U.S., Grant said (1/6/92), has "millions of sub-humanoids,
savages, who really would feel more at home careening
along the sands of the Kalahari or the dry deserts of
eastern Kenya -- people who, for whatever reason, have
not become civilized.
refugees are "swine" and "sub-human infiltrators"
who multiply "like maggots on a hot day" (3/20/92).
AIDS in Haiti, according to Grant (6/28/94), is "not
prevalent enough; there's too many of them."
was finally fired from WABC after saying, the day the
plane carrying Clinton's Commerce Secretary, Ron Brown,
crashed, that Brown (who was black) might be the only
survivor, `because I'm a pessimist'. Within a few weeks
he was of course rehired on another station. For most
people bigotry is a noxious vice. But it seems that
for Bennett it can be a profit opportunity. (Helps to
pay those gambling bills.)
Bennett attacked trash TV he criticized an episode titled
"Get Bigger Breasts or Else." But Rush
Limbaugh, whom Bennett describes as "possibly
our greatest living American" had the following
to say on this subject: "Now I got something for
you that's true - 1972, Tufts University, Boston. This
is 24 years ago - or 22 years ago. Three year study
of 5000 co-eds, and they used a benchmark if a bra size
of 34C. They found that the now wait, it's true
the larger the bra-size, the smaller the IQ."
seems to be his way, Limbaugh also lied. There never
was any such report.
Double standard? Hypocrisy? Check a dictionary.
President Clinton, the US attacked Serbian forces committing
large scale genocide against Muslims in Kosovo. As a
result of Clinton's actions, genocide ceased, with tens
of thousands of lives saved, the brutal dictator who
ruled Serbia was deposed, to be replaced by far more
democratic rulers, and the potential of escalating war
in Southeast Europe came to an end. Bennett's response
to Clinton's actions was "I think this policy is
Americans opposed our attack on Iraq, and criticized
Bush's false reasons for that attack, Mr. Virtue said
"Well, you shouldn't listen to the protests because
they're obviously helping Saddam Hussein. . . . It is
worth noting, however, that Saddam was much encouraged
by these protests."
this penchant to wrap himself in the flag, it is only
fair to note that the author of Why We Fight
has never worn the uniform of his country. We
might wonder whether he is donating any royalties from
that book to families of crippled, maimed, and killed
soldiers. We rather doubt it. Like Grant's bigotry,
other men's responsibilities in battle become profit
opportunities for this beacon of Right wing Wisdom.
you agree with Bennett in opposing government's foreign
policy, you are a patriot. When you disagree with him,
you are helping those who hate us. It is difficult for
a person to be more full of himself than that. Humility
is often considered a major virtue, and perhaps rather
than lecturing on it, Bennett should begin practicing
some. Along with honesty and walking his talk.
on Bill Bennett: