The Bennett Brouhaha
May 08, 2003, 05:00 AM
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If you wanted to prove that not all neo-conservatives are Jewish, which seems to be a burning issue in some quarters these days, one of the first names you'd mention would be that of William Bennett, once famous as the nation's self-appointed instructor in virtue but this week better known as the main character out of an old country-Western song by Kenny Rogers.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bennett lacks the flinty wisdom of Mr. Rogers' gambler, who knew when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em and when to cut and run. Also unlike Mr. Bennett, he knew when to shut up.

For the last several days, Mr. Bennett has only made the embarrassment of being exposed as a hypocrite worse by trying to defend his wastrel habits. "I don't play the 'milk money'," the Virtue Czar whined to the press.

That's swell. The $8 million he has played (and apparently lost) during the last decade was a good deal more than milk money, and most of it probably came from the sales of his books telling all of us how we ought to behave.

There's nothing wrong with a little gambling, any more than there's anything wrong with a little drinking. But when you guzzle the equivalent of $8 million worth of booze in ten years, something is definitely wrong, and so it is with gambling.

This is not the pastime of a fellow who plays a little poker with his buddies every weekend or a guy who bets the lottery with a system based on his mother-in-law's birthday. A man who loses $8 million in a decade is out of control, and whatever the psychiatric meaning of such conduct, the whole concept of virtue is that you are in control—of your appetites and passions. 

Mr. Bennett clearly isn't.  "Hypocrisy" is not quite the word for it.

But his silly and unsavory gambling habit is really not out of character for Mr. Bennett, whose entire life has been based on what many moralists would tell you is fundamentally wrong with gambling—that it's an effort to get something for nothing.  From the earliest days of his career, that's exactly what Bill Bennett has been trying to do, and it's closely related to his emergence as a major neo-conservative leader.

Mr. Bennett started off his academic life with a doctoral dissertation in philosophy at the University of Texas; the dissertation was all of a whopping 129 pages long, with only 10 pages of footnotes and a mere 13 items in the bibliography.

In the humanities, at the graduate level, that's unacceptable—indeed it's barely acceptable for undergraduates. Most dissertations run to 200 or more pages, and if they don't, they're rejected.

How he got away with it isn't clear, but, as one scholar who's read it tells me, "It may be the only thing Mr. Bennett ever wrote on his own."  In 1980 he published a book on affirmative action that apparently was really written by "co-author" Terry Eastland. That set the future philosopher on his course to stardom.

It also set him up, in the new Reagan administration, to be the neo-conservative candidate for the chairmanship of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which decides which academic projects get funded and which don't.  His main rival for the position was M.E. Bradford, a real scholar from the University of Dallas whom Mr. Bennett's neo-con and left-wing cronies vilified. One such smear-artist was leftist historian Eric Foner, who curiously received sizable grants from the NEH once Mr. Bennett took charge.

It was only a short step from the NEH If to the Department of Education, where Mr. Bennett, with his chief of staff Bill Kristol, managed not only to save the department from President Reagan's pledge to abolish it but actually enlarged it by some $9 billion more than under Jimmy Carter.  A former Department employee tells me, "his speech writers used to ask the librarians at the Department library to come up with famous quotations to make Bennett's speeches appear erudite."

When his best-selling Book of Virtues came out and made the erudite Dr. Bennett rich, it soon developed, as the New Yorker reported a few years ago, that "Dr. Virtue" had nothing to do with writing it. The whole tome was really the work of a ghostwriter who got a cut of Mr. Bennett's immense royalties. 

Better him than the casinos, I guess.

The pattern is clear enough: Virtually everything Mr. Bennett has done or claimed to have done throughout his career is simply a fraud—not least the fake "conservatism" and vapidly pious moralisms he has made a fortune by preaching. 

It's hardly surprising that this week his fellow phonies among the neo-cons are shrieking in his defense.

Why shouldn't they? They're well-suited to each other.

COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

[Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control.]