Book of Virtues hits
bestseller list!

May 13, 2003 7:07 AM

Others may have been impressed, but I was so upset about three women claiming to have spent the night in former Alabama football coach Mike Price’s room in Pensacola after he spent $200 on drinks for Destiny the stripper, that I headed straight for the library.

I wanted to pick up a copy of William Bennett’s "Book of Virtues" and get my head straight, but when I got there the librarian told me they were cleaned out. "There’s been a run on them," she said, "and every one of our copies is gone."

I asked her if she had any copies of Bennett’s "More Virtuous Virtues" but that shelf was empty too.

It’s nice that when the country gets into a moral jam, it has William Bennett to turn to. As Secretary of Education he looked after our kids for us, and reminded us how morally decrepit we were. He wrote, "The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family" and warned us that if we didn’t change our value system we were headed for trouble.

So it came as a shock, while I was worrying about coach Price and his frolicking female roommates in Florida, to discover that pious old Bill Bennett, he of the stern visage and dour warnings on morality, is nothing more than a broken down compulsive gambler, a guy who wrote about how we had to deny ourselves instant gratification and then shut down his computer and went out and blew $8 million gambling over 10 years.

I learned much of this from a Washington Post column by Michael Kinsley, who dismembered Mr. Bennett syllable by syllable. Mr. Kinsley opened his essay by saying, "Sinners have long cherished the fantasy that William Bennett, the virtue magnate, might be among our number."

Is he ever!

The guy who got $50,000 a lecture to moralize about our shortcomings spent much of the dough, it turns out, in casinos, and then justified it by saying that in all his moralizing he never criticized gambling, and never spent the family milk money. He just blew the big bucks he got paid for telling us how weak we all are.

Hypocrisy, of course, is standard fare these days, from high in government to investment banks to the lowly bum in the gutter. But much of it comes from guys who you suspected all along. In Bennett’s case the trait was a bit surprising, for ”” as Kinsley wrote ”” "Bennett can’t plead liberty now, because opposing libertarianism is what his sundry crusades are all about. He wants to put marijuana smokers in jail. He wants to make it harder to get divorced. He wants more ”˜moral criticism of homosexuality.’"

Kinsley says one of Bennett’s "cleverer PR conceits" was that problem gambling was a negative indicator of cultural health. Bennett claims his problem started with church bingo. So blame it on the churches for putting the temptation right out there right in front of good old Bill while he was preaching virtues. Just like Destiny put it right in front of Mike Price.

Michael Kinsley was not the only one tearing Bennett to bits last week. Sheryl McCarthy, writing in New York Newsday, called him "more pervasive than the ailing Billy Graham, more pompous than the fading Pat Robertson, less rhetorically entertaining than Jesse Jackson before the baby scandal." She also said he was "insufferable." Kinsley called him "smug, disdainful, intolerant."

He is, of course, all of those things. But there is something else about him that is even more repugnant.

I’m getting sick and tired of being lied to in life.

I was told by my president that Iraq was getting ready to attack us, and that they had all sorts of weapons of mass destruction. So for a hundred billion or so we flattened them, and then left them like some wild west Texas town of old, with thugs with guns taking over abandoned apartments, stealing cars and art, and running amok without law or order or government.

Diogenes wandered around Greece looking for an honest man. That was 18 centuries ago. If he were alive today, he would still be looking.