The Book on Bennett

By Spalding, John D. | The Christian Century, May 31, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Book on Bennett


Spalding, John D., The Christian Century


SHOULD WE judge Bill Bennett for being an obsessive gambler, for losing over $1 million in a two-month period and $8 million over ten years? He wouldn't have it any other way. In his 1998 bestseller, The Death of Outrage, Bennett bemoaned the wretched moral state of our nation, and said part of the problem is that we're afraid to judge people on moral issues. "We live in an era when it has become unfashionable to make judgments on a whole range of consequential behaviors and attitudes." He called for a revival of judgmentalism. "If to make judgments of better and worse, good and bad, fit and unfit, sound and unsound, competent and incompetent is to be judgmental," he wrote, "then there is a need to be judgmental and no need to apologize for it.... For a free people, the ordeal of judgment cannot be shirked. To try to shirk it is to avoid responsibility."

Bennett has never shirked that responsibility himself. He has climbed into positions of high moral authority--as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and before that secretary of education--and has spent decades tirelessly crusading against moral lapses. He believes public figures must be held to tough standards, for they are all role models, "When it comes to embracing and exemplifying core ethical values," he writes, "we must all do our part." Just think of the kids: "Children watch what we do as well as what say, and if we expect them to take morality seriously, they must see adults taking it seriously."

We recall how Bennett assailed Bill Clinton for his "sexual indiscipline," which he found "alarming in its compulsiveness, self-indulgence, and carelessness.

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