Dynamist Blog


If you want to track every movement of the Bill Bennett mini-scandal, go to www.AndrewSullivan.com. Having defended Bennett, Andrew is posting the responses of his readers and of various other moralizers.

I don't like Bennett, but I don't see it as particularly scandalous that he gambles away significant portions of his fortune. It's his money, and he's rich. Plus the losses being reported are gross, not net.

Bennett's gambling is expensive entertainment and, to my mind, pretty boring, but there's no sign that it's destroying his life--or that he's hypocritical. Nineteenth-century entertainments are taboo among some conservative Protestants, but Bennett is a Catholic, not an evangelical. Last time I checked Catholics didn't have any problem with gambling (or drinking or dancing). Neither do most of the critics who are making heavy weather of his hobby.

The argument that he must be a hypocrite because some of his moralizing allies oppose gambling is silly. I certainly wouldn't want to be held responsible for every opinion voiced by someone who agreed with me on, say, the importance of scientific freedom. Bennett speaks for himself, not for Gary Bauer. Besides, he's either wrong or right on the merits, regardless of his personal behavior.

This story is old news in Washington, even though everyone is acting shocked, shocked. Michael Lynch told me years ago, when he was Reason's DC editor, that Bennett was well known for his high-stakes trips to Vegas. Nobody including us reported it, most likely because nobody, definitely including us, thought his gambling was that interesting. He isn't, after all, opposed to the practice.

But, then, my assessments of Bill Bennett's ethics seem to represent a minority opinion. I thought it was an ethical offense for a public intellectual with a Ph.D.--as opposed to, say, a professional athlete or even a presidential candidate--to use other anonymous twentysomethings to write "his" books and articles. The general reader response was that I was making a big deal of nothing. (For background, go here and scroll down.) Obviously ethical standards vary--which, of course, doesn't make mine wrong!

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