Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 8, 2003
POLITICS: Bennett Wrap
My initial gut reaction to the Bill Bennett controversy was, among other things, that this was a complete waste of time. Maybe I overreacted a little, if only because I'd read Josh Marshall's teaser ahead of time and expected a much bigger story than legal gambling that Bennett could afford.
I'd have to agree that the scope of Bennett's gambling does, at least, raise questions about his fitness for public office. But, of course, Bennett hasn't held public office in more than a decade (I don't know, he may have been on some advisory commission or something, but it's not the same thing), and nobody's suggested that he was gambling millions of dollars when he did. That's one of the innumerable distinctions from the Clinton situations (take your pick which one). The level of public scrutiny that's appropriate depends very much on how much power we give the person, which is why presidents (and, to a lesser extent, Supreme Court justices) are really in another league even from legislators, let alone pundits like Bennett.
I'm also not so quick as Andrew Sullivan to characterize casino gambling as something done in "privacy" - Bennett's "privacy" has perhaps been invaded to some degree, but it's not one of the more serious violations I can think of.
And some good has come of this: much unlike our 42nd president, Bennett is subject to the very social pressures of shame and disapproval that he has championed, and he is (apparently) willing to take personal responsibility, pay his debts (by all accounts, he has always done so) and stop going to casinos.
In the end, perhaps Jonathan Last was right: it may be a legit story, but one that would have been better served as a side item and not trumpeted as a big deal. And those critics who hope to strangle Bennett with the story and silence his voice for a moral society should still be ashamed of themselves.