Liberal hypocrites blast Bennett

Posted: May 07, 2003 12:00 AM

Not long ago, liberals claimed that privacy was sacrosanct. Liberals like Newsweek's Jonathan Alter and magazines such as the hyper-earnest Washington Monthly believed that we should judge a man by his private acts alone.

Well, now it turns out that Alter and The Washington Monthly believe exactly the opposite. In jointly reported articles written for their respective magazines, Alter (Newsweek) and Joshua Green (The Washington Monthly) take the position that what a man does in private is the measure of the man.

It was former education secretary and drug czar Bill Bennett, of all people, who persuaded them to change their position. Unfortunately, it wasn't anything Bennett said; it was what Bennett did. He got caught gambling -a lot.

The stories allege that Bennett lost up to $8 million at various Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos over a decade.

Bennett disputes this, arguing that the authors don't count how much he's won over the years.

But anyway you slice it, the man gambled too much and has admitted as much in a public statement.

What I find so interesting is the glee -literal glee -from liberals who believe this is Bennett's comeuppance. Usually, journalists defend prying into the privacy of public figures by citing illegality, lying, cheating, hypocrisy or the unfair victimization of an innocent party.

But in this case, no one has charged Bennett with breaking the law. He's never lied. In fact, Time magazine reported on his gambling seven years ago, and many other outlets have reported on it since. Bennett never denied it. He's in debt to no one, cheated no one and only his family could remotely claim to be a victim of Bennett's gambling, though something tells me that the gleeful liberals aren't particularly concerned about the Bennett kids' inheritance.

As for hypocrisy, the articles don't mention it. But defenders of the newsitorials claim it's implied because he moralized about other peoples' private behavior, even if he never moralized about gambling. They say that even though the Catholic Church, to which Bennett belongs, doesn't have a problem with gambling, Bennett's still a hypocrite for indulging a vice.

This is all nonsense. First of all, I wish people would stop singling Bennett out as a moralizer. Look up the word. Moralizers are people who talk about morality. If you think liberals don't do that, you're not reading the newspaper.

Second, if you don't consider a certain behavior a vice, you're not a hypocrite for indulging in that behavior. You might be a sinner or even a criminal, but you aren't a hypocrite. If I think murder is fine and then I kill someone, I'd be guilty of homicide but not hypocrisy.

If Bennett were a Baptist, he'd probably be a hypocrite for gambling. But he's not a Baptist.

He explains that he sees gambling like alcohol: If you abuse it, you have a problem, but just taking a sip -or pulling a lever -isn't a big deal.

More to the point, no one has been able to explain why it would matter very much if he were a compulsive gambler or a hypocrite. Would he now be wrong about the perils of drug use? Does it mean he's wrong about the war on terror? Are Aesop's Fables -which appear in Bennett's The Book of Virtues -now meaningless?

If he's a compulsive gambler does that mean he was wrong to criticize president Clinton for perjury? When you think about it, hypocrisy -unconnected to other sins like larceny or corruption -may be one of the most annoying peccadilloes, but it's also one of the least serious ones. I've always believed that.

But the liberals haven't.

In his article, Green unfavorably compares Bennett to Bill Clinton during impeachment. Bennett gambled, which is legal in one form or another in nearly every state of the Union. I see billboards for lotteries all the time. I've never seen one say, "Live the Dream: Get Jiggy With Your Interns."

Moreover, Bennett's not the president of the United States. He never promised the American people in a "60 Minutes" interview or anywhere else that he would never gamble again, the way Bill Clinton swore his infidelities were in the past.

Clinton stood plausibly accused of everything from sexual harassment and perjury to rape, brazen public deception and rank hypocrisy. And yet, The Washington Monthly and Jonathan Alter denounced any and all intrusions into Clinton's private behavior as politically motivated, unfair, unjust and indefensible. But when they do it to Bill Bennett, it's time for glee.

Maybe Bennett's a hypocrite, maybe he's not. But there's no doubt about the hypocrisy of the liberals cheering as Bennett squirms.