Know When to Fold


It turns out Bill Bennett isn't a hypocrite; he's just a coward. After forcefully arguing that his gambling was not a moral issue, he has now promised never to do it again. "I have done too much gambling," he says, "and this is not an example I wish to set. Therefore, my gambling days are over."

Presumably, Bennett's vow of abstinence covers his friendly poker games with William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Robert Bork as well as his $500-per-pull slot machine and video poker sessions. Perhaps these three degenerates should also reconsider their sinful ways.

How much gambling is "too much" depends largely on one's financial means, and Bennett, who has earned millions from speaking fees and book advances, has insisted he could easily afford his trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. "I don't play the 'milk money,'" he told Newsweek. "I don't put my family at risk, and I don't owe anyone anything."

Nor does it seem that the time Bennett spent in casinos interfered with his family or professional life. It certainly did not keep him away from TV cameras and op-ed pages.

So in what sense was his gambling excessive? Apparently only in the sense that he gambled enough to generate gotcha articles in the press and scolding from self-righteous social conservatives (there was poetic justice in that, of course). "We were disappointed to learn that our longtime friend, Dr. Bill Bennett, is dealing with what appears to be a gambling addiction," said James C. Dobson, president of Focus on the Family. "One of the reasons Focus on the Family continues to be strongly opposed to any form of gambling is because it has the power to ensnare and wound not only its victims, but also those closest to them."

Was Bennett ensnared and wounded? Was his family? I've seen no evidence that his gambling, as opposed to publicity about his gambling, disrupted his life at all.

Indeed, if Bennett set a "bad example," it was by showing that it's possible to blow $800,000 a year in casinos and still lead a happy, productive life. Perhaps he worried that people of more modest means would try to imitate him and end up bankrupt. In this respect Bennett was like the well-adjusted pot smokers whom he condemns for encouraging drug use by others with less self-control. This logic also implies that moderate drinkers are responsible for alcoholism and that anyone who eats contributes to obesity.

"I view it as drinking," Bennett told Newsweek back when he was still defending his gambling. "If you can't handle it, don't do it." The new rule is the one underlying the war on drugs: "If anyone can't handle it, don't do it."