Bill Bennett's Bad Bet - The bookmaker of virtues

Talking about Miers the fundie working at a gambling operation - the Texas Lottery - I remebered what Salon's Michael Kinsley wrote in 2003 when Bill Bennett's gambling scandal surfaced -- law

The news over the weekend—that Bennett's $50,000 sermons and best-selling moral instruction manuals have financed a multimillion dollar gambling habit—has lit a lamp of happiness in even the darkest hearts..

Although it may be impossible for anyone famous to become permanently discredited in American culture (a Bennett-like point I agree with), Bennett clearly deserves that distinction. There are those who will try to deny it to him. They will say:

1) He never specifically criticized gambling. This, if true, doesn't show that Bennett is not a hypocrite. It just shows that he's not a complete idiot. Working his way down the list of other people's pleasures, weaknesses, and uses of American freedom, he just happened to skip over his own. How convenient. Is there some reason why his general intolerance of the standard vices does not apply to this one? None that he's ever mentioned...

2) His gambling never hurt anyone else. This is, of course, the classic libertarian standard of permissible behavior, and I think it's a good one. If a hypocrite is a person who says one thing and does another, the problem with Bennett is what he says—not (as far as we know) what he does. Bennett can't plead liberty now because opposing libertarianism is what his sundry crusades are all about. He wants to put marijuana smokers in jail. He wants to make it harder to get divorced. He wants more "moral criticism of homosexuality" and "declining to accept that what they do is right."

In all these cases, Bennett wants laws against or heightened social disapproval of activities that have no direct harmful effects on anyone except the participants. He argues that the activities in question are encouraging other, more harmful activities or are eroding general social norms in some vague way..

3) He's doing no harm to himself. From the information in Alter's and Green's articles, Bennett seems to be in deep denial about this. If it's true that he's lost $8 million in gambling casinos over 10 years, that surely is addictive or compulsive behavior no matter how good virtue has been to him financially. He claims to have won more than he has lost, which is virtually (that word again!) impossible playing the machines as Bennett apparently does. If he's not in denial, then he's simply lying, which is a definite non-virtue. And he's spraying smarm like the worst kind of cornered politician—telling the Washington Post, for example, that his gambling habit started with "church bingo."..

Bill Bennett's Bad Bet - The bookmaker of virtues. By Michael Kinsley


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