Bill Bennett’s other addiction – last word
Ah, the joys of Washington: that wonderful city where sanctimony and intellectual dishonesty are treated like virtues instead of vices. Former Education secretary William Bennett has made millions preaching virtue to Americans (typical speaking fee: $50,000; biggest best-seller: The Book of Virtues).
But this Washington prince got caught with his hand on a one-armed bandit when Newsweek and The Washington Monthly simultaneously revealed that he had a gambling addiction. According to Newsweek, this particular character flaw cost him more than $500,000 in just two days in Las Vegas this spring, while one source estimated his total losses at a whopping $8 million. (Bennett prefers games that require little or no skill and absolutely no human contact: slot machines and video poker.)
Bennett took the standard route of every transgressor who has always considered himself above criticism: First he denied that he had done anything wrong; then he promised to stop doing it. When the rage of his fellow “moralists” showed no sign of abating, he issued a terse statement, declaring his gambling days were over. “This is not an example I wish to set,” he declared. Then he refused to say anything else.
Anyone who has witnessed one of Bennett’s Sunday talk show performances knows how much he is addicted to sanctimony, a quality Merriam-Webster defines as “affected or hypocritical holiness.” But as is the case in so many other pillars of the right-wing establishment, Bennett’s intellectual dishonesty is by far his most dangerous quality.
When Bill Clinton made his first speech before the Human Rights Campaign in 1997, Bennett went on ABC’s This Week to announce a sobering discovery: “This is tough news. It’s not pleasant to hear.” But apparently somebody had to say it: Homosexuality “takes 30 years off your life,” he added. According to the white-haired sage, the typical life expectancy of a gay man was just 43.
The source of this startling “fact” was “research” by Paul Cameron, a particularly questionable “investigator” who had been thrown out of the American Psychological Association for misrepresenting the findings of others and engaging in dubious research techniques. (For this fact I am indebted to my fellow Advocate columnist Andrew Sullivan.) And the basis for Cameron’s estimate of gay life expectancy: He collected the obituaries from gay newspapers during the height of the AIDS epidemic and found that the average age at death of the gay men written about in these articles was 43.
As Sullivan said at the time, if Bennett had said anything equally idiotic about African-Americans, he would have instantly lost “any credibility.” But “with gay men and women, such statements are regarded as completely banal, and Bennett actually gains points among some conservatives for voicing them.”
Of course, the same double standard applies to Rick Santorum, another pillar of the Washington establishment, who equated consensual acts between gay adults in the privacy of their own home with incest and polygamy–a comparison that quickly won him the renewed support of most of the Republican establishment, including George W. Bush. Not exactly the same treatment Trent Lott received when he lionized the party’s senile scholar of racial segregation, Strom Thurmond.
As a fierce opponent of abortion, the junior senator from Pennsylvania has often told the story of the loss of his fourth child, Gabriel, who was born prematurely in his wife’s 20th week of pregnancy and died two hours later. The couple took Gabriel’s body home to let their three other young children hold the baby before burying him. As Mike Signorile wrote recently, this “weirdness” is “pretty jarring” in the context of Santorum “condemning other people’s behavior.”
“I mean,” Signorile asked, “how much more perverted can you get than walking around with a dead 5-month-old fetus and having your kids caress it?”
Indeed. But in Washington, Santorum remains a respected senior member of the Republican leadership of the United States Senate.
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