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May 06, 2003

Craps Throwing Surrender Monkey Most

Craps Throwing Surrender Monkey

Most people enjoy seeing the mighty taken down a peg or two. "Pride goeth before a fall" is one of the most enduring tropes of American culture. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. Ma, Ma, Where my Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha! Ha! Ha! There's a long history of sex scandals in Washington; Bill Clinton and Gary Condit are just two of the more current examples.

Those whom the gods would destroy, they first raise up*. When the object of the destruction is a moralistic scold, an extra little fillip of glee courses through the American consciousness as we watch their descent from the heights. There's a reason why people gloated over the falls of Aimee Semple MacPherson, Jim and Tammy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Jesse Jackson and now of course, Bill Bennett, even though his ostensible failure was not sexual in nature. Observing a moral scold receive his or her comeuppance is a tonic for the soul. It's not just the joy of seeing hubris experience its peculiar reward. America revels in downfalls like that of Bill Bennett because we don't like being told what to do, regardless of the aptness of a particular message.

It's called liberty. It's the bedrock of the American psyche, the cardinal American virtue, and Bill Bennett has betrayed it. Not by gambling, which he correctly pointed out was not only with his own money, but a legal activity where he practiced it**, but by his abject surrender once the story broke. Rather than stand in the teeth of the storm and defend himself, an action one would assume would be automatic for a man who penned entire chapters on Courage and Perseverance in his bestselling Book of Virtues, Bennett knuckled under.

He folded. Not to pressure from the the Left, but from his ostensible allies on the Right.

  Concerned Women for America said it "commends our friend Bill Bennett's bold move to cease gambling, despite an absence of personal conviction. Taking responsibility for his example to others, he has once again demonstrated good character."
     Noting that "families are crumbling under the weight of irresponsible gambling losses," CWA, founded by Beverly LaHaye, said in a statement: "We pray that Mr. Bennett will remain firm in his resolve to eliminate gambling from his life and will not hesitate to seek any help he may need in keeping his resolve."
In Colorado Springs, James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, said he was "disappointed to learn that our longtime friend, Dr. Bill Bennett, is dealing with what appears to be a gambling addiction."
" 'Gaming,' as the industry euphemistically refers to itself, is a cancer on the soul of the nation," Mr. Dobson said. Commending Mr. Bennett for his intention to quit gambling, he said, "Our prayers will be with him and his family in the days ahead."

His was an abasement swift and unconditional, one well-nigh French in its boneless rapidity. Faced with the chance of defending actions private in nature and legal in practice, of defending Liberty, William Bennett fell to his knees and admitted wrongdoing. He jumped off the burning deck without ever looking back. Next step, the ever so humble "forgive me" speech, followed by a resumption of his scolding. Like Jimmy Swaggart, like Jesse Jackson. Rather than striking a blow for Freedom, Bennett took a dive and gave Sin the win.

And yes, Bennett's downfall does raise questions about the educational utility of his book. Why should one have faith in a message when the messenger delivering it is betraying the principles within? It could certainly be argued that an eight million dollar gambling habit puts paid to Self Discipline, and we've already seen Courage and Perseverance go by the board. What hope is there for Compassion, Responsibility, Friendship, and Work?

Liberty, you'll note, is nowhere to be found. It's is an inconvenient virtue for scolds, though one might think that scolds of the Right might value it a tad bit more that the scolds on the Left. After all, Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. was once a rallying cry for conservatives.

For Bill Bennett, at least, it's become "Extremism in the defense of liberty is... not a consideration."

* Yes, I know Euripides said it differently
**Presumably this argument would also be acceptable to Mr. Bennett's supporters had he been a frequent patron of Nevada's brothels, rather than its casinos.

Update: The Light of Reason on Bennett "For Bennett, there is no principled recognition of individual rights -- no recognition that, as long as a person is not violating the rights of others (defined objectively and narrowly -- and not with dubious and amorphous appeals to dangers to "society in general"), an individual has the right to consume as many drugs as he wishes, to engage in sex with other consenting adults in any manner he wishes, to hire a prostitute, and the like."

LoR link via The Daily Pundit

Posted by Bigwig at May 6, 2003 03:32 PM | TrackBack
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