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IRREGULAR TIMESIt's the right thing to do:
Forgive William Bennett his moral failures

Let us have pity on poor William Bennett.

No one else understands the burden of the moral crusader. They don't understand that if you go around declaring yourself an expert on the moral issues that everyone else ought to follow, then you yourself have to actually be moral yourself, or at least cover up your moral failings so that no one will find out.

Me, I don't pretend to be an expert on morality, but William Bennett sure does. He writes books like The Book of Virtues, in which he preaches a code of morality that he says everyone ought to follow, a code of morality that is universal. Mr. Bennett regularly gets on TV and the radio and preaches withering sermons to those who fail to live up to the moral code that he has devised.

Oh how the high and mighty have fallen! How far have they fallen? Fallen 8 million dollars, in the case of William Bennett.

You see, the ultra-moral William Bennet turns out to be a high stakes gambler who throws his inhibitions to the wind as he makes regular visits to casinos where he is a preferred member. In casino-speak, they call gamblers like him "whales". According to an article in the New York Times, Mr. Bennett has a regular habit of going into casinos to "relax" and feel good. In one period of two months, he appears to have lost 1.4 million dollars at one casino alone.

In a display of the extravagant self-delusion that compulsive gamblers are known for, William Bennett refuses to acknowledge that his gambling habit is in any way a problem. He insists that he's got his gambling problem all under control, saying, "Over 10 years, I'd say I've come out pretty close to even".

Come out even, huh? Ask any statistician whether this claim is likely to be true, and you'll get a big belly-laugh. You see, casinos are set up so that the odds are almost certain that a gambler will lose big over time. In every single game, the odds are heavily weighted in favor of the house (against the gambling customer). Furthermore, the more that a person gambles, the more likely it is that they will accumulate losses, and the more preposterous the chance becomes that winnings will be gained or that that person will come out "pretty close to even".

Not only does Mr. Bennett have a problem, he won't even admit that it's a problem. Looks like he's on his way to becoming the poster boy for compulsive gambling.

Mr. Bennett has made his riches by citing classic religious texts to bolster his arguments that his favorite moral "virtues" apply to all human beings, whether they like it or not. The thing is, a good deal of those texts describe gambling as a sin. What's ironic is that conservative Christians tend to agree that gambling is a work of the Devil. Many states can't even pass a bill approving a lottery to benefit public schools because of conservative Christians who morally oppose gambling. Yet, it is exactly this same conservative Christian viewpoint of absolute morality that William Bennett has become famous by promoting!

Some people might point out that this is no time for national political leaders who believe that it's okay to play games of chance with millions of dollars. They would point out that American has had enough of that sort of thing, what with George W. Bush's friends over in Enron and all.

spare the sermonAs for me, I'm not going to get all high-and-mighty about people doing a little gambling now and then, but I do think that it's a problem when people allow gambling to consume their lives so much that they come depend on it just to feel good or relax, as William Bennett appears to have done. I also think it's a sign of greed and arrogance when the rich throw their millions away in emotionally thrilling games of chance instead of using their money to help other people out. Mr. Bennett could have taken that 8 million dollars and helped a lot of people out. Instead, he gave it all to the casino masters, who don't have a great reputation for good works.

You'd think that Mr. Bennett would have long since given a stern lecture to the American people about the sin of gambling. You would be wrong. You see, of all the moral issues that right-wing Americans typically rally around to judge other people, Mr. Bennett has been curiously silent. In the many volumes he has written about his belief in universal code of morality, Mr. Bennett never bothers to mention that most spiritual traditions regard gambling as foolish and immoral.

"I've gambled all my life and it's never been a moral issue with me," says Bennett. That pretty much explains the gap in his system of morality. When a moral failing belongs to someone else, William Bennett is all-too-eager to point it out. On the other hand, when he has a moral failing himself, Mr. Bennett refuses to acknowledge the problem. It appears that when Mr. Bennett talks about universal morality, what he really is talking about are the moral failings of everyone else. His own moral failings don't count, apparently.

I don't mean to say that I'm any better than William Bennett. I've got moral failings too. I've done lots of wrong things in my life. Then again, I don't go around proclaiming myself an expert on morality. I may offer critiques of policy positions, but that's because we live in a democracy, the health of which is based upon an open and vigorous debate about what our government should do.

The problem is that Mr. Bennett has made a living out of saying that his morals are better than other people's. He's gotten famous by giving sermons that tell people what they should and should not do.

I'm thinking back to the time when President Clinton and an intern had oral sex. William Bennett was seen and heard everywhere on the airwaves, loudly and self-righteously condemning Clinton and calling for his impeachment. Curiously, when it became known that Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has sexually cheated on his wife, Bennett declined to make a big fuss. Even more curiously, now that a moral failing of his own has come to light, Bennett will not acknowledge his own hypocrisy.

It's time for Mr. Bennett to take a look in the mirror, judge himself, and show a little humility before he continues casting stones at others. Restraint in judgment is another piece of morality shared by different religions that Mr. Bennett has neglected to emphasize in his great sermons on right and wrong.

I say that we ought to help Mr. Bennett out. Let's provide him with an example of restraint in judgment. Let us forgive Mr. William Bennett for having the kind of moral failing that he refuses to forgive in others. Let us hope that he learns the moral of his own story.



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