Monday, May 05, 2003

Is Frugality Missing From The Book of Virtues?-Practically everyone's put in their $0.02 on Bill Bennett's gambling and the less-than-honest use of that information. Spudlets, among many, has a good take. Josh Claybourn, as usual, has a good roundup as well. Of the pros, Jonah seems to have the most level headed take. Bennett should be held to account not for the gambling per se, but for the lack of frugality of his gambling habit. On the list of vices, gambling ranks fairly low in my book. I haven't put money on anything since being taken to a local race track for the first and only time about 18 years ago (and came out ahead for the evening on a lot of low-risk show bets; I got $2/race as part of a birthday present). I use to do some sports prognosticating (the skill is still there, as the defending blog NFL prognostication title shows) and put the occasional quarter or dollar on a game as a teenager, but got nervous when anything resembling real money was on the line. For me, sports betting was about guessing about the spread and being able to say "I told you so." The fact that a small amount of money was on the line was secondary to the battle of wits. Thus, I can't launch both barrels at all the people who got into the office Super Bowl or March Madness pool. However, I think Bennett had had bad judgement in blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars on gambling. Yes, he had that kind of money to blow; the czardines won't be out their college money. He could have done a lot better with that money someplace other than casinos. Yes, I'll look to cast the first stone upon myself; there are quite a few things in my budget that aren't the best choices. Someone who is casting himself as Mr. Virtues should do a better job on the frugality front. His gambling habit seemed to be no worse than Michael Jordan's, but His Airness doesn't cast himself as a defender of traditional values. Bennett hasn't been hitting on all eights for a while. Backing Lamar Alexander, who was the most socially liberal of the electable candidates, didn't help. His K-12 project seemed a bit too commercial and not the best use for his talents. Given the gambling habit, did Bennett move towards teaming up with the Edison Project, rather than some other less-profitable but more useful project, in order to pay for his gambling habit? Bennett's foes would like to have this give moral conservatives a black eye. This doesn't lessen the work Bennett has done in the last two decades, but makes him a weaker voice in the short term. He's been shamed sufficiently to quit gambling and could bounce back if he keeps away from the one-armed bandits. However, the aim of the pieces in question aren't to get Bennett to change his ways, but to make him politically impotent. Give him about a year of staying away from casinos, he might be back to his old self. There's a book in this, as well as a rubber-chicken circuit run to talk about the evils of gambling and what it did to his (and others) pocketbooks. Played correctly, he can easily be rehabilitated, for most people have a soft spot for the recovering substance abuser, and gambling can be just as addictive as drugs. Bennett has been relatively out of the limelight the last few years. Rather than ruin Bennett, this episode might bring him back to the summit by talking about gambling as a vice that he had fallen prey to. Conservatives have tried to fight the meme of gambling as a cheap revenue fix; we might just be getting a spokesman with one heck of a testimony.

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