Is William Bennett a hypocrite?

Former Education Secretary William Bennett is well known for his public stands on traditional American virtues. His best-selling Book of Virtues has focused attention on him as a moral leader, but recent revelations of a multi-million-dollar gambling habit raise some doubts.

This article, by David Von Drehle of The Washington Post quotes Bennet:

But, as this article from the Baltimore Sun points out:

So, should Bennett be forgiven for having feet of clay and retain his mantle of moral leadership, or should he be disregarded as a common hypocrite? What say you?


Neither of the above. His message should be judged on its content: as with all moral and spiritual leaders, a flawed messenger can still deliver a meaningful message.

I don’t agree that William Bennett could ever legitimately claim any “mantle of moral leadership.” But even if he is a “common hypocrite,” I don’t disregard him: I take what he says for what it is worth. After all, common hypocrites are–well, common–and even a blind squirrel will occasionally find an acorn.

So Mr. Bennett may have gotten a little preachy at times. Some of his preaching, though, was pretty durned good. If it will now be tempered with a dose of humility, so much the better. I never cared much for him as a politician. But I will still enjoy his books and, in particular, I would still read to my children from the Children’s Book of Virtues. Those stories are great stories, and the human failings of the man who collected them in no way detracts from the stories themselves.

Well, I’d have to say that yeah, he’s hypocritical. If his own organization opposes casino gambling because it is a corrupting influence (and I would not be surprised if it did) then it is pretty unseemly for Bennett to be such a big gambler.

However, his hypocricy would be diminished at least a little if he was always able to afford his gambling habit, never went into debt because of it, and never put his family or business finances at risk because of his gambling. In other words, if he were 100% absolutely “responsible” with his gambling, then at least he’s not being some basket case who’s spinning out of control while putting up a good front for the public.

But, still—if he’s pissed away a huge chunk of cash on gambling, (which reports indicate that he has) then man! That’s a serious amount of dough which could have been spent much more usefully. (I know it’s a judgment call on what is more “useful”, but shit—I think a yacht or a trip to Disneyland would be more “useful” than gambling. But maybe that’s just me—I see gambling as something akin to putting money into a wood chipper, and finding amusement and entertainment in watching the money get all mangled in the chipper. But, like I said, maybe that’s just me.)

Does Bennett publically oppose gambling? If so, he’s a hypocrite. If not, he isn’t. It’s his money to spend as he wants.

But this is going to damage him significantly, because the constituency he represents is very anti-gambling.

And of course, if he has a gambling problem, then one would hope that it would give him a little sympathy for people who engage in other vices he doesn’t approve of.

But I must say, it sounds like he’s a stupid gambler. $500/pull slot machines? What kind of moron do you have to be to play that? Most of the real high rollers I know are at least smart enough to play Baccarat or Blackjack, where the house odds are very low.

From the articles to me it seems as if Bennett has no problems with gambling as long as it’s done by adults in casino’s who aren’t throwing their savings away to service some gambling addiction.

I’m sure most Church leaders are against rampant alcoholism but I’m sure every priest/rabbi enjoys a good scotch every now and then…

Can anyone explain what Bennet’s insights into ethics or morality are? Or is he just yet another scolding screed, full of straw men and an inability to tolerate debate?

Some good comments here. I was prompted to ask the question because, being the ::cough:: liberal that I am, I understand that many to the left of Bennett must be tempted to rub their hands together with glee and jump on him. I admit that that was my first impulse. But even though I’m not fond of his political ideology, I have liked the man since he was Secretary of Education for his willingness to say what he thought and damn the consequences.

I think it’s too bad that he blows so much money on slot machines, but I guess you’d have to ask his wife whether it’s a “problem.” Eight million dollars (if that’s an accurate estimate) seems like a lot to me, but to a rich man it may really be no problem. Nobody has even claimed that he’s broke or unable to pay the rent and feed his family.

As for having better ways to spend his money, I’d have to agree that $8 million would have neen better spent in helping people who have nothing. But that’s not for me to say. I buy a lottery ticket twice a week, and I don’t think I’m immoral. I don’t think Bennett is either.

It occurred to me, though, that if he really has broken about even as he says, should the IRS be interested in his own estimate of his winnings? As I understand it, you’re supposed to declare your winnings, and can only deduct your losses if you are a professional gambler. This story may take a whole new direction.

No, not true.

You may deduct your losses only to the extent of your winnings. Being a “professional gambler” doesn’t enter into it.

In other words, if in one year, you had losses of $5000 and winnings of $6000, you must declare income of $6000, and you may deduct the $5000 - the result is an accurate $1000 net income for the year.

The next year, you may have winnings of $7000 and losses of $9000. You must declare your $7000 as income, but you may only deduct $7000 of your $9000 loss for a net income of zero. If gambling were treated like a business, you would be permitted to show a loss that year.

As to the OP, it’s unclear to me where Bennet condemned the type of gambling he was doing. If you can’t show that, then he’s not a hypocrite.

  • Rick

He probably hasn’t lost 8 million dollars. There’s really no way for a casino to track how much you’ve lost.

What that number almost certainly refers to is the cumulative amount of money declared by the casino for Bennet’s ‘buy-in’. Any time a gambler requests more than 10K in chips, the casino has to file a form with the government. But the person could cash in all 10K and break even, and the casino would still have filed that 10K with the government.

Given that he played expensive games with house edges somewhere between 1 and 10%, and probably ‘cycled’ his chips many times, my guess is that he probably lost about 10% of that amount, or $800,000.

But not knowing more details, he could have been unlucky and lost much more than that, or he could have gotten lucky and come close to breaking even, or even winning. But that’s very, very unlikely.

Actually, Sam, if he was playing slots, and was using a electronic card rating system - which, given the amount of money in play, he’d be crazy not to - the casino can tell exactly what he’s won and lost.

Even at cards, as long as he’s being rated, the casino will have a good idea both of what he has in action and what he’s won - although not a to-the-penny figure as the slots provide.

  • Rick

The man has made a career out of telling people what is and is not moral. Yet he reserves the right to tell the rest of the country not to pay attention when he blows millions and millions of dollars on gambling.

Was there a chapter in The Book of Virtues devoted to minding your own damn business? No?

Then he’s a hypocrite.

Um… minty, what is a hypocrite?

There is nothing immoral about blowing millions gambling.

He never said there was. He hasn’t espoused a view and then acted contrary to it.

Oh, so you’re saying there was a chapter on minding your own damn business?

Nope, the hell with that. The jerk has made a fortune off of minding the rest of the country’s business. Let’s see how he likes it when the rest of the country judges his private life.

See, that’s how it works. You tell the country how to live, and the country gets to judge how you live. And my guess is that the country–certain right-wing apologists notwithstanding–thinks blowing $8 million on slots makes you an idiot at best and reprehensible piece of crap at worst.

Of course, I could be wrong. It could be that the right-wing busybodies of this country are perfectly fine with Bennett’s moral stance on gambling. Let’s watch his speaking fees for the next year or two and see what happens, shall we?

To be honest, I’ve never much liked Bennett. I distrust people who think it’s very important to tell me what I should be doing in my own home. And yeah, I think this makes him somewhat of a hypocrite, even if he hasn’t specifically attacked gambling. He knows that gambling is frowned upon in the church. He knows what his constituents would think about it. I’m sure the revelation embarrassed him, and that tells you what you need to know. That he was doing something that his community frowns upon.

I personally don’t think gambling is immoral. I’ve done plenty of it. But it’s certainly not looked upon as a virtue by any church I can think of.

The RCC has no particular beef with gambling, I bet. Just witness the number of 'Vegas Night’s at various church fundraisers.

Minty speaks for me (but not on retainer). This is a classic example of instant karma coming back to bite him on the ass.

And gambling is on the shopping list of Things That Are Leading to the Moral Decline of America in the views of the Pious Pharisees of America (no offense to the real and sincere Orthodox Jews who might use the term in its non-pejorative sense).


Bennett’s gambling may indeed be immoral, if you think gambling is per se immoral or if you believe that large sums of money spent gambling should be put to better use. YMMV on that point.

But it isn’t hypocritical, because Bennett has never (AFAIK) taken a position that responsible gambling is immoral. He isn’t engaging in conduct that he condemns for others.

Do some – or even many – of Bennett’s followers think gambling is wrong and immoral? Sure. But Bennett should not be held to account for things those followers believe on topics which he has not taken a position – he’s only responsible for the things he’s said and done. Bennett is not his follower’s keeper.

I bet a lot of Bennett’s followers come from the Southern Baptist “all drinking is sin” mold. Does that fact make Bennett a “hypocrite” because he’s a social drinker? I hardly think so.

Dewey, we understand that Bennett never condemned gambling per se. Big deal. He probably never condemned tobacco back when he was drug czar, either.

The point, amigo, is that Bennett has made a career off of loudly and indignantly judging the moral fitness of his fellow citizens. He has even allowed the organization he runs to condemn the expansion of gambling without so much as a peep in objection.

He who casts the first stone doesn’t get to whine about it when the target casts it back. And Bennett has cast a lot of first stones.

On a yardstick that doesn’t include responsible gambling. He can hardly be called a hypocrite for engaging in conduct he has never condemned. **

So what? Can’t a social drinker object to the building of liquor stores on every block? Can’t the occasional porn consumer object to the creation of red light districts? **

If you want to say that Bennett is acting immorally, or that his view of morality ought to include condemnation of all types of gambling, fine. That’s a legitimate criticism. If you want to say “Bennett isn’t such a great moralist after all – see, he engages in conduct that most of his followers find immoral,” you’ll get no argument from me. Heck, if you want to say “Bennett’s acceptance of responsible gambling is inconsistent with his other views,” I have no issue with that.

But not hypocrisy. That is one sin this story doesn’t include.

All I’m saying is: charge the man with the right offense, counselor.