Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Bill Bennett in perspective

The Maximum Leader and Smallholder write about Bill Bennett here and here.

I paired Bill Bennett up with Bob Jones III, which was probably misleading in a couple ways. First, I made it appear that I think Bennett and Jones are equally poor representatives of the right. That's not true: I think Jones is far loonier and represents an actual danger. Bennett is simply unimpressive as an advocate of virtuous conduct. Second, I seem to have given the impression that I think gambling is immoral. I'm not comfortable with gambling, but I don't think it's intrinsically immoral.

I focused more on Bennett because, to me, Bob Jones is an open-and-shut case. He's a nut. He's rich, influential, and dangerous, but a nut all the same. A bit of reading among the online conservatives seems to indicate that even conservatives, on the whole, don't take this man seriously. Bennett, on the other hand, is saying many worthwhile things. I'm not ready to dismiss him as a loon, but he didn't help his image by crowing (along with many liberals) about the primary importance of values/virtues in the recent election. This was a mistake on his part.

It's very telling that Bennett has sworn off gambling. If we accept the Maximum Leader's spin, this is probably because Bennett knew that, as a public figure, he shouldn't indulge his vice extensively. Maybe the ML is right. I don't know. I'd like to think that Bennett knew he'd Done Wrong. If Bennett himself were only worried about his public image, that would simply add to the hypocrisy: virtuous conduct blossoms from within, not from superficial concern with public opinion. Yet the question lingers: why did Bennett swear off gambling only after the press made a stink about his vice? The timing is suspect. Surely the man had plenty of time to renounce gambling (or at least moderate his habit) beforehand.

Changing your lifestyle requires enormous self-discipline as well as support from friends and loved ones. Swearing off gambling is a herculean act of will. If Bennett has pulled it off, I can respect that. But I still think the conservatives have far better standard-bearers than Bennett in their ranks.


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