Bill Bennett's Greatest Vice: Promoting the State

I delight in seeing the recent attacks on Bill Bennett.

The Washington Monthly and MSNBC have busted out stories about Bill Bennett’s monstrous gambling habits. According to the MSNBC piece, Bennett is such an addicted gambler it is reported that he may have squandered about $8 million in the last decade.

Bennett’s gambling habits have long been known, so it’s amusing to speculate on why this becomes news at this point in time. For now, we assume that a major gambling house broke the story to reporters, unless we find out it was a former casino employee who did it on his own. In order for a casino to "out" a customer, Bennett had to have become a huge pain in the neck, or, more or less, a good customer gone bad because he didn’t pay his bills.

Since Bennett’s political status has dried up, and with it his power base, it’s likely that he no longer has the ability to shake down bigwigs like he once did, so his ability to curry favors is far less than what it used to be. So perhaps Bennett’s wallet is prone to be a great deal thinner these days. But of course that holds true only if we dare to believe that Washington is a corrupt place where power, position, and personal favors are exchanged freely, and sometimes even for a little pocket cash. Nah.

First, questions should abound as to where this money came from, how he made it, and how he could afford to blow millions. Add up his bureaucrat salary and his likely speaking engagement and book monies, even using overly-generous figures, and it just doesn’t make mathematical sense. If the CEO of General Motors was spending that kind of money at casinos, it would be a huge outlay. That government bureaucrats, lifetime congressman, and six-figure Potomac Peons live like Kings on high is somehow never questioned by the media.

The main point is not that Bennett has gone around preaching virtues that he himself cannot live out. I don’t see a huge conundrum in writing books on virtues and morals, yet engaging in activities that are seen as contradicting exemplary models. After all, there is nothing wrong with striving toward a platform of impeccable virtues, and promoting it, even if the person preaching such virtues cannot always attain them due to personal failings. To strive for an ideal and not quite reach it is not hypocritical. That is the nature of imperfect man.

However, this two-faced politico has strutted around scorning every “vice” imaginable, from homosexuality to drug use to divorce, yet all the while he rakes in enough beyond his six-figure government salary to blow it as a Preferred Customer in Atlantic City and Las Vegas.

But Bennett’s problem is more far-reaching in that he’s yet another bureaucrat that advocates the use of federal government to control states, criminalize lifestyles, and deter State-sanctioned "vices." I’m very pro-gambling, if that’s what one wants to do. It’s time that others stop preaching their strain of Puritanism to the rest if us. However, what I loathe is the Puritanical mentality that beasts like Bennett take on in public, whereas they are behind the scenes having a grand old time practicing what they preach against. And most importantly, guys like Bennett use the powers of their political office and the State to obtain these ideal "virtues." Our individual freedoms are bandied about as part of a favor-for-favor political process amongst Washington players. To repeat the famous Sam Rayburn phrase: "to get along, go along."

According to the Washington Monthly’s Joshua Green, Bennett’s organization, Empower America, opposes the extension of casino gambling to the states. Another federal power grab by the Empowered Statists. Also according to Green

In a recent editorial, his Empower America co-chair Jack Kemp inveighed against lawmakers who “pollute our society with a slot machine on every corner.” The group recently published an Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, with an introduction written by Bennett, that reports 5.5 million American adults as “problem” or “pathological” gamblers. Bennett says he is neither because his habit does not disrupt his family life.

As a Drug Czar, Education Czar, and National Endowment for the Humanities Czar, Bennett has been relentless in advancing the size and scope of the federal government. Plus, Bennett and his gang have even attacked on his fascist website called AVOT (Americans for Victory Over Terrorism). They claim to be fighting "anti-Americanism" as they attempt to snuff out Lew Rockwell, Noah Chomsky, and others who dare defy the State code on war and terrorism.

In short, guys like Bennett don’t like virtues as much as they love the State, its coercive political power, and their prearranged personal capacity to manipulate us plain folks. They use immoral means to obtain supposedly moral ends under the guise of holding "superior knowledge" and a legitimate position that is actually the result of a lifetime of political favors and dirty deeds well done.

As Hedrick Smith noted, in The Power Game: How Washington Works, "Washington is a city engaged simultaneously in substance and stratagems. Principles become intertwined with power plays. For Washington is as much moved by who’s up and who’s down, who’s in and who’s out, as it is by setting policy."

In essence, Bennett is only a microcosm of what’s wrong with a coercive, representational, democratic system. But he’s a poster boy for why we should not authenticate any federal power grab at any time.