William Bennett: The Pusher

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“There,
but for the grace of God, go I.”

This phrase
is basic to Christian character. That it is also so widely known
— or was, when I was growing up — is a positive factor
in the American character.

I do not
choose here to pile onto Bill Bennett because of his gambling.
I intend to pile onto him because of his status as a pusher
of addictive substances.

I admit
that I never liked the man’s style, and I never approved of
his decision to become Humanities Czar and then Drug Czar. In
my view, the most productive thing he ever did in his public
career was to keep the late Mel Bradford from becoming the head
of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Mel weakened for
a time, wanting to distribute some of the government’s boodle
to a better class of scholars. In other words, he briefly dreamed
of spreading the addiction to money that had been confiscated
by the Federal government. Bennett got the job, so he became
the pusher.

Trying
to do good things with government money is like trying to improve
the public’s health by providing government-funded medical inspections
for harlots. The latter policy increases demand for their services.
It spreads the sin by reducing the risk. It is the equivalent
of providing free needles to heroin addicts, so that they will
not get or spread AIDS. Public health bureaucrats apparently
do not want any of the addicts to conclude, “I really should
stop doing this. I might die of AIDS.” So, the bureaucrats subsidize
the lifestyle of addiction, thereby destroying lives, as economists
say, at the margin. Oh, well. Those people were marginal anyway.

I contend
that this outlook toward addiction is the inevitable result
of every government-funded project to make people good. It is
the chief perversion of civil government. It is the heart, mind,
and soul of the messianic state.

Under
Bush, Sr., Bennett was appointed head of the newly created Office
of National Drug Control Policy. In 1989 and 1990, he served
as the official spokesman for government programs that eventually
dispersed $44 billion on anti-drug efforts during Bush’s term.
This was in addition to $39 billion
a year in state and local spending
. Bennett devised a new
policy: go after drug users. This filled America’s prisons with
people other than drug lords.

Bennett
later headed up something called the National Commission of
Civic Renewal. You can understand his present public relations
problem, not to mention that organization’s problem. Imagine
the organization’s logo as a slot machine. The three bars are
on jackpot: Renewal, Renewal, Renewal.

Bennett
is an addict in every sense of the word. As in the case of drug
addiction, there are no victims of gambler’s addiction, i.e.,
victims in the sense of victims of violence. But there are surely
victims in both varieties of addiction. He has wasted his children’s
inheritance, just as drug addicts do every day. But, unlike
drug addicts, he will not be sent to jail. There is no Office
of National Gambling Control Policy.

His personal
addiction, being legal in the cities where he publicly but quietly
exercised his civil liberties, did not cost the U.S. government
billions of dollars in a fruitless attempt to wipe it out. For
years, nobody paid any attention to the pudgy man in front of
the slot machine who transferred a fortune to the entertainment-addiction
segment of American industry.

Now his
$50,000 per speech fees will dry up. He will therefore be forced
to dry out. The question is: Will he be able to stay on the
wagon?

He should
have been lecturing for free at sessions of Gambler’s Anonymous.
“Hi, I’m Bill B., and I’m an addict.” But he did not. This is
because the essence of all the 12-step programs is humility
and the willingness to accept personal responsibility for one’s
actions. You have to have both for these programs to work. Bennett
has always lacked the first characteristic. This loss did not
begin at the slots in Las Vegas. It began no later than the
day he accepted the post known as the head of the National Endowment
for the Humanities, where he planned to make American scholarship
better with confiscated money.

Decades
ago, someone asked Ludwig von Mises what he would do if the
government gave him full authority to re-structure the American
economy. His one-word answer was profound: “Resign.” As a utilitarian,
unlike Murray Rothbard, Mises would not have admitted that this
answer was profoundly moral, but it was.

BEATING
THE NUMBERS

The drug
addict’s addiction begins with this: an unwillingness to accept
the world as it is, which includes the possibility of reform.
Instead of adopting a life of thrift, hard work, and generosity
as the proper response to a sin-cursed world, the person ingests
drugs that alter his perception of reality. He then becomes
part of the problem. He says he likes to get high. It’s entertainment,
he says. But he indulges his habit at the expense of a personal
self-help program of serving consumers through greater productivity
and serving the poor or the afflicted through generosity. Instead,
he transfers the means of individual and social improvement
— his money — to drug pushers. Then he squanders his
only irreplaceable resource: his time.

Where
do people first learn this destructive behavior? Usually in
tax-funded schools. The drug emporium of every neighborhood
in America is the local public high school.

Bennett
extended his career as a high-profile bureaucrat when Reagan
made him Secretary of Education. There, he oversaw the dispersion
of billions of dollars to the drug emporiums. He justified this
as a way to improve American education. He looked at the numbers
— declining test scores and rising drug addiction, which
paralleled rising grants from the Federal government —
and concluded: “I can beat the numbers. I’m Bill Bennett.”

He made
the same decision under Bush when he became the Drug Czar. He
thought he could beat the numbers.

Bennett
says he enjoys the experience of gambling. He is no doubt telling
the truth. He plays the slots — the preferred game of high-risk
losers who refuse to face statistics. He knows the numbers,
but he does not care.

This has
been the story of his entire public career. He looks at the
numbers, which support a conclusion of “do nothing,” and he
decides to Do Something Big.

Bill Bennett
has spent his career refusing to resign on principle from offices
and personal practices that cry out: “Quit!” He is too proud
to resign. He has always believed that he, through force of
will, could beat the numbers. This belief is the essence of
every form of addiction. Overcoming it is what every 12-step
program of sobriety begins with.

It is
worth noting that Alcoholics Anonymous, the original 12-step
program, will not accept funding from any outside source, especially
the government. Bill Wilson, or “Bill W.,” understood from the
beginning that outside funding would do two things: (1) transfer
control over the program to outsiders; (2) reduce the personal
responsibility of the members, whose main failings were pride
and irresponsibility.

THE
MOMENT OF TRUTH

I am told
by the son of an alcoholic who got sober in the mid-1950′s,
and who has stayed sober because of Alcoholics Anonymous, that
an alcoholic experiences a moment of truth when he recognizes
what he has become. This may happen only once. If he ignores
it, he is likely to drink himself to death.

His father’s
moment of truth took place on a camping trip. He went out in
his truck with his dog for the weekend. He drank all weekend.
The morning when he was to come home, he called to the dog to
get into the truck. The dog refused. At that point, the man
knew what he had become. He could no longer even fool his dog.
He drove home, called AA, and joined. He has been sober ever
since.

In
the fine film, The
Days of Wine and Roses
, Jack Lemmon has his moment of
truth while standing in front of a store window. He sees his
own reflection in the glass, and initially wonders, “Who is
that rummy?” This leads to his recovery. His wife never has
her moment of truth in the film. She does not recover.

William
Bennett has now experienced his moment of truth. The whole world
knows what he is: an addict who has gambled away his children’s
inheritance. He says he will stop gambling. I pray that he will.
But I have my doubts. His entire demeanor is the same.

He said
at first that he had broken even. This was the same old line:
Bill Bennett not only could beat the numbers, he
did beat the numbers
.

Then his
story changed. He has not hurt anyone, he insisted. He has paid
his bills on time. In short, he invoked the “victimless crime”
excuse — the excuse that he has always denied to peaceful
drug addicts. The man remains in denial, unwilling to face what
he has done, both in his career and his personal life. His own
religion tells him otherwise:

A
good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children:
and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just (Proverbs
13:22)
.

He has
squandered his grandchildren’s inheritance, as surely as some
cocaine addict has.

He thinks
he can break this addiction by force of will. Again, Bennett
is saying, “I can beat the numbers.” Gamblers Anonymous members
have a lower recovery rate than AA members, or so the unofficial
grapevine says. (These two organizations wisely do not let sociologists
do their surveys.) This failure rate probably has something
to do with the alcoholic’s realization that his addiction will
kill him. The gambler may fear retaliation by the bookie or
the mob, but he figures they will not kill him. They want him
back. They want him to pay his debts. Dead men don’t pay. Similarly,
the bartender is not going to kill the alcoholic. But the booze
will.

A
LESSON FOR US ALL

Addiction
comes in many forms. One man’s addiction is another man’s evening
of fun after a long day at work. The second man had better not
think, “I’m immune.” He may be immune to the first man’s addiction.
He is not immune to all addictions. The correct response to
the other person’s addiction is this: “There, but for the grace
of God, go I.”

This is
why 12-step programs begin with a declaration, or creed. This
creed is posted on AA websites, but more to my point here, on
the Web page of AA’s parallel organization for teenage children of alcoholics.
The children know the confession well, and are aware of its
healing power, before they reach adulthood. In this sense, they
have an advantage over the rest of us.

  1. We
    admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our
    lives had become unmanageable.

  2. Came
    to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore
    us to sanity.

  3. Made
    a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care
    of God as we understood Him.

  4. Made
    a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

  5. Admitted
    to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact
    nature of our wrongs.

  6. Were
    entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

  7. Humbly
    asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

  8. Made
    a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing
    to make amends to them all.

  9. Made
    direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when
    to do so would injure them or others.

  10. Continued
    to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly
    admitted it.

  11. Sought
    through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact
    with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge
    of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

  12. Having
    had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps,
    we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice
    these principles in all our affairs.

Anyone
who sneers at either Bennett or this confession has fallen into
the trap of pride that Bennett fell into.

Sadly,
this same attitude has lured the vast majority of politicians,
who have sought election based on the promise of making bad
people good through the instrument of political coercion. Political
power has been the drug of choice among most reformers for two
centuries. They are pushers, for they addict voters to the same
drug.

They think
they can beat the numbers: annual budget deficits, long-term
Social Security deficits, the price effects of the expansion
of money, etc., etc. We now have a nation of addicts who have
adopted this view of external reality. Every time a recession
arrives, they return to the bottle — higher taxes, more
government spending, more fiat money — for the bottle helps
them in their lifetime goal: to avoid facing what they have
become, and what they have done to their children’s inheritance.

Voters
should not sneer at Bill Bennett’s addiction to gambling and
its result: the squandering of his children’s inheritance. Instead,
they should look more carefully at Social Security’s statistics.
Then they should join Voters Anonymous. “Hi. I’m John Q., and
I’m an addict. I think voting can make other people good. I
need help.”

May
12, 2003

Gary
North is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.freebooks.com.
For a free subscription to Gary North’s twice-weekly economics newsletter,
click
here
.

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