Saturday, May 10, 2003

CARY McMULLEN: Can a person of virtue gamble?
May 10, 2003

----Tuscaloosa News.....

You know your reputation is shot when your oh-so-serious books become a laughingstock.

In preparation for writing this column, I checked out two of William J. Bennett’s books from the library. The clerk glanced at them and said to me, “Just stay out of the casinos."

In case you missed it, Newsweek and The Washington Monthly published stories last week that revealed Bennett is a veteran high-stakes gambler. The former secretary of education and former director of the Office of Drug Control Policy ó he who has been a darling of the Religious Right and the epitome of social conservatives ó lost an astonishing $8 million in casinos over the last 10 years, according to the reports. Even a last-minute renunciation of gambling may not be enough to save his reputation.

In the articles, Bennett justified his extravagant pastime this way: “I adhere to the law. I don’t put my family at risk, and I don’t owe anyone anything."

But it begs the question: Can a virtuous person gamble?

Bennett is Catholic, and the Catholic Church does not forbid gambling as sinful, unless it deprives a family of necessary income. That shouldn’t be surprising for an organization that earns income from bingo. However, the church does teach that “the passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement."

But evangelicals take a decidedly different view of gambling, and it’s a good bet ó sorry ó that the news reports caused a few jaws to drop among Bennett’s fellow travelers. Bennett was a frequent guest of James Dobson on his “Focus on the Family" program, and Dobson is one of the most outspoken opponents of legalized gambling on the planet.

The evangelical view has long been that gambling is a vice. In this perspective, it fosters greed, dishonesty and laziness, the latter since the gambler hopes for gain without labor.

Among a long list of specific criticisms on Dobson’s organization’s Web site ( is the complaint that gambling contributes to a general social decay.

Dobson apparently thought he had an ally. The loss of moral fiber is one of the cardinal points Bennett has been hammering away at for years with his books and through his public speaking engagements.

One of his books was “The Death of Outrage," a critique of Bill Clinton. In it, Bennett said the president should set the moral tone for the nation. It seems fair to ask whether Clinton’s adultery is a worse sin than losing $8 million gambling.

It is telling that on Monday, Bennett issued a statement that doesn’t quite admit his gambling was wrong but says he’s giving it up anyway. “I have done too much gambling, and this is not an example I wish to set. Therefore, my gambling days are over," he said.

If this is not an example he wanted to set once it was made public, why didn’t he give it up before now? What of the example he was setting for his two sons? Or those who know him?

The reaction from evangelical leaders to all this has been strangely muted. It makes you wonder how much they knew already.

Dobson expressed “disappointment" and characterized Bennett’s activity as an addiction, something Bennett himself denied. Dobson commended Bennett for “acknowledging his problem" and renouncing gambling.

Evangelicals love a good act of repentance, but it’s a good question whether Bennett has really repented to their satisfaction or whether they will feel they can trust him again.

It is particularly ironic that Bennett should be caught with his hand on the slot-machine lever, since if you look into “The Book of Virtues," you enter a world of black and white, of “moral clarity," to use a phrase from his most recent book.

Personally, I have sympathy for Bennett, because each of us has a weakness, a fondness for some self-indulgence that poses a temptation. But since he has asked us to adopt very high moral standards, what I wonder is: Would William Bennett be in “The Book of Virtues"?

Cary McMullen writes for The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla.

Littel wonder the christain church has lost the respect of the Young! They lost several generations.
but then again, how many New Age "Gurus" have met the same fate..."do as I say, not what i do"!!

I like the idea of gambling, myself....but then i do not tell other people how to live their lives....
Interesting Coda to the Indian casino article above!