If I were a betting man, I would wager the demons in hell are rejoicing over the news that William Bennett has been outed as a gambler. His critics, who never liked imposing a moral code on themselves and so rejected the idea that such a code was good for anyone else, are celebrating what they perceive to be a vindication of their position.
That attitude was expressed in a column by Michael Kinsley in the May 5 Washington Post: "Sinners have long cherished the fantasy that William Bennett, the virtue magnate, might be among our number." It is peculiar when liberals refer to "sin," a diagnosis for human depravity they long abandoned, replacing it with "dysfunctional" to explain why we seem incapable of perfecting ourselves.
Kinsley and others argue that Bennett's gambling habit was "victimless." But no person exists in a vacuum. Our personal behavior creates ripples that touch other lives. Bennett has a family - his own and a larger "family" of people who have been positively influenced by his secular sermons, as well as our culture that needs voices like his to respond to those whose behavior and "preaching" have led to societal deviance.
Bennett admits to wagering a lot of money over several years (Newsweek and Washington Monthly magazine claim it was $8 million, which his wife, Elayne, denies to USA Today), but he says he did not gamble "the milk money."
Gambling is a vice, which Bennett now realizes, and he has pledged not to gamble any more. He should also give up his "penny poker" game, because, just as an alcoholic must not have an "occasional" beer, neither can a problem gambler play for lesser stakes and not be hooked again.
Kinsley's primary objection to Bennett, after indulging in the fun of clucking over another "fallen" moralizer, is that Bennett is "smug, disdainful (and) intolerant." No more so than the people who have "imposed" their immorality on the rest of us through the media and the courts. Telling people they ought to stop doing certain things and start doing other things is not the way to win friends, but a prophet, who speaks the thoughts and standards of others, can never have winning friends as his primary objective, not if he is to influence people.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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