Bet on it

Jonah Goldberg’s column on the disclosure of Bill Bennett’s gambling habits seems to me to rate four stars: “Booking Bennett.” I admire the column because it gives so little ground on a subject that’s difficult (for me at any rate) to get a handle on. What strikes me most about the underlying “story” is the sheer breathless viciousness of the culture war. Meanwhile, Bennett himself has declared that his “Gambling days are over.”
HINDROCKET adds: Trunk, I’m a guy who likes few things better than a day at the race track, and once every few years I spend an evening at an Indian casino. So I have nothing particular against gambling, although I think it is appalling that states sponsor it in the form of lotteries–none of the proceeds of which, as far as I can tell, ever contribute to tax relief.
Having said that, and acknowledging the viciousness of the leftist attack on Bill Bennett, I think he was astonishingly myopic to think that, having positioned himself as the virtue czar, he could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in an evening of high-stakes gambling without being considered a bit hypocritical. To defend this, you have to say, in essence, that someone who has gotten rich by advocating virtue in others no longer has anything to lose by becoming a Las Vegas high roller who drops millions at the gaming tables. I don’t buy it. I don’t think that guys who drop big wads of cash in Las Vegas, and who fly into town at the casinos’ expense, and are “comped” at Vegas hotels because they bet so much money, should be imprisoned or even shunned. But I also do not think they are well-positioned to make a career out of advocating virtue. The associations among gambling and drugs, prostitution, corruption, and crime in general are well known and in my opinion are not accidental. It was willfully self-destructive, I think, for Bennett to carve out a career in virtue while amusing himself at the high-stakes tables, in much the same way that it was self-destructive for Bill Clinton to dally with an indiscreet intern, or for John Kennedy to have wild parties in the White House pool. And I don’t buy the “Bingo” analogy. Anyone who can’t tell the difference between middle-aged Catholic ladies playing Bingo and high-stakes gamblers who are comped in Las Vegas casinos is a fool. And Bill Bennett is no fool.

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