Jonah Goldberg

I know the story about Bill Bennett's gambling is fading -and rightly so -from the public radar. Meanwhile, another story is getting bigger on the screen. John F. Kennedy had an affair with a 19-year-old intern while president of the United States. The two stories may seem to have very little in common, but they do.

In a sense, they tell the strange story of liberalism zig-zagging on the issue of privacy. Let's start at the end of the story and work backward. In much of the criticism of Bennett, liberals and libertarians have referred to what they call "the Bennett rules." Joshua Marshall, who writes a sort of in-house tip sheet for professional liberals (, says, "For my part, I'd say leave everyone's (private) issues to them and theirs. ... But those aren't the Bill Bennett rules, are they? Now he wants them to be. Too bad."

My friend Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, disagrees with Marshall. If you believe the right to privacy is a rule, it shouldn't matter what Bennett believes or even if he is a hypocrite. Beinart asks, "Isn't the definition of a rule something that applies universally, whether the person you're applying it to believes in it or not? We don't justify racial discrimination against bigots. To allow Bennett to determine the standards by which he is judged affords him an authority he doesn't deserve."

I agree with Beinart on that. But where he, Marshall and the wolf-pack of gleeful liberals feeding on Bennett -largely as payback for Clinton's impeachment -are wrong is when they say these were "Bennett's rules." Bennett argues that character matters -and it does -but he's never been a huge advocate for invading the privacy of others. No, the idea that the private lives of politicians and public figures are fair game to prying journalists and activists is a creation of the left.

JFK hugely benefited from the press's belief in a zone of privacy. Decades later we've found out what many reporters either knew or could have discovered if they had wanted to: Kennedy had a lot of problems. He was hopped up on an entire pharmacopoeia of medication. Medical files recently released by the Kennedy family to Robert Dallek, author of a new book on Kennedy, An Unfinished Life, reveal that Kennedy took copious painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs, stimulants, sleeping pills, as well as hormones and steroids.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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