Monday, May 05, 2003
On Bill Bennett and gambling: I'm sure you've probably heard about it by now, but former secretary of Education, drug czar and author of "The Book of Virtues," has been outed as a high-stakes gambler. (Full disclosure: I have, on occasion,
bought lottery tickets supported California's schools.)
Frankly, it's not quite the big story some have made it out to be -- From "Best of the Web Today:"
You can see why this would be a big scandal. Oh sure, Bennett hasn't actually held public office in over a decade. But still it's news when it turns out he's been violating the law.
Only he hasn't been violating the law. According to The Washington Monthly, "Bennett has made dozens of trips to casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas"--places where gambling has been legal for decades.
But still he's a hypocrite, right? After all, he often argues that gambling should be outlawed. Actually, he doesn't. The Washington Monthly reports that "Bennett and his organization, Empower America, oppose the extension of casino gambling in the states." But apparently they take no position on casino gambling where it's already legal. And while he "has opined on everything from drinking to 'homosexual unions' to 'The Ricki Lake Show' to wife-swapping," gambling "has largely escaped Bennett's wrath."
So maybe Bennett has a conflict of interest. After all, the gambling industry has one of the most vigorous lobbies in Washington, the American Gaming Association, and its president, Frank Fahrenkopf, is a former Republican National Committee chairman. But there's no apparent connection here either; Bill Bennett is not a gambling-industry lobbyist.
OK, but even if Bennett's gambling is entirely legal and above board, he's squandering money on which his family depends, right? Well, uh, no. The Washington Monthly quotes Bennett as saying: "I don't play the 'milk money.' I don't put my family at risk, and I don't owe anyone anything"--and then acknowledges that "the documents offer no reason to contradict Bennett on these points."
So maybe this all comes down to that old Washington adage that the coverup is worse than the crime. Yeah, that must be it--except that Bennett isn't covering up anything. He freely acknowledges that he gambles "for fairly high stakes."
What, then, is all the fuss about? It seems to be nothing more than that Bennett thinks and writes a lot about virtue, and he indulges in a vice. In other words, the crack reporters at Newsweek and The Washington Monthly are shocked, shocked to learn that human beings are fallible. This may be news to them, but not to most people.
Incidentally, Bennett's gambling isn't news either. Time reported in 1996 that he had won a jackpot in a Las Vegas casino and that, while "sheepish," he acknowledged that he does gamble. Newsweek's reward for teaming up with The Washington Monthly is to get scooped by its main rival by seven years!
Now, I'm not an advocate of gambling -- because some people do ruin themselves and their families. Bennett has since said that his gambling days are over -- and that's a good thing.
In the future, might I suggest that Bennett spend his discretionary income on supporting conservative Internet bloggers. Mr. Bennett, please use one of the buttons at the left.