A Man of Virtues Has a
"There is no one righteous, not even one." Romans 3:10
That verse came to mind when Newsweek and The Washington Monthly reported
last weekend that Bill Bennett, author of "The Book of Virtues," lost "more
than $8 million" in a decade of casino gambling.
Internal casino documents reveal he wired $1.4 million to cover losses at
one casino over two months. His game of choice: video poker and slot
machines, some at $500 a pull.
As Secretary of
Education under Reagan, he excoriated schools for lax academic standards. As
drug czar under President Bush I, he argued that addicts have a
responsibility to confess their addiction and get help. His book on the
Clinton scandal, "The Death of Outrage," tartly took issue with Billy
Graham's forgiving the President: "Forgiveness is being granted without
admission of guilt, without apology, without repentance. Forgiveness is
becoming a synonym for lax standards and tolerance for (and acceptance of)
Small wonder that
liberal defenders of Clinton gleefully pounced on Bennett, such as Michael
Kinsley who wrote "Sinners have long cherished the fantasy that William
Bennett, the virtue magnate, might be among our number. The news over the
weekend - that Bennett's $50,000 sermons and best-selling moral instruction
manuals have financed a multimillion dollar gambling habit - has lit a lamp
of happiness in even the darkest hearts."
Ten years ago, his "Book of Virtues" became a best-seller. Its first chapter
is on "Self-Discipline." He introduced an old English fairy tale with these
words that may now haunt him:
"Sometimes fortune offers us close calls we should take as
warnings. Heaving a sigh of relief is not enough; if we are smart, we'll
change our behavior. Self-discipline is learned in the face of adversity."
not take his own advice initially, telling writers Joshua Green and
Jonathan Alter that, "I play fairly high stakes. I adhere to the law. I
don't play the `milk money.' I don't put my family at risk, and I don't
owe anyone anything." The reporters did not contradict him on those
However, Bennett also claimed he's beaten the
odds: "Over 10 years, I'd say I've come out pretty close to even," sparking
laughter from casino sources. "I've made a lot of money (in book sales,
speaking fees and business ventures) and I've won a lot of money. When I
win, I usually give at least a chunk of it away (to charity). I report
everything to the IRS."
These are the words of a man speaking "without admission of guilt, without
apology, without repentance," to quote his words on Clinton.
However, in the cold
light of Monday morning - and doubtless after some painful discussion with
his savvy wife, Elayne - Bennett issued a terse statement confessing, "It is
true that I have gambled large sums of money... I have done too much
gambling, and this is not an example I want to set. Therefore, my gambling
days are over."
That comment drew praise from prominent conservatives such as Chuck Colson.
Concerned Women for America said it "commends our friend Bill Bennett's bold
move to cease gambling, despite an absence of personal conviction."
However, experts on
gambling are far more guarded in their reactions. Rev. Tom Grey, a United
Methodist pastor who directs the National Coalition Against Legalized
Gambling, said that Bennett appears to be one of the 5.5 million
pathological gamblers whose addiction "is hidden to the victims themselves."
Bennett thinks he can quit gambling "as a matter of willpower," which is
highly unlikely. "The cure rate in Gamblers Anonymous is 8 percent, which
suggests the likelihood of going cold turkey is small. He will need help."
Dr. Valerie Lorenz
of the Compulsive Gambling Center in Baltimore, adds, "I am not aware of
anyone who is able to stop on their own." She works out a treatment plan in
cooperation with the spouse of the gambler, who undergoes 4-7 individual
therapy sessions a day for a month at a cost of $15,000. The therapy saves
three out of four gamblers.
Bennett seeks such help so that he can "recognize the extent to which
gambling had hooked him. If so, his personal tragedy could have a happy
ending, transforming him to a fighting zealot against gambling. He was
absolutely fearless in his attack on drugs.
could develop an equal fervor over this form of
addiction - it could be a turning point in the future of America on
gambling. We have not had someone who could speak with the type of authority
Bill Bennett has."