It could hardly have been a surprise for Bill Bennett, after word leaked out early this month that he had a big gambling habit, to begin hearing derisive comments from his political and cultural foes. He was too obvious a target.
The reaction was vicious. Liberal Michael Kinsley in Slate: "Gambling would not be our first-choice vice if we were designing this fantasy-come-true from scratch. But gambling will do. It will definitely do." Late-night comic Jay Leno mercilessly squeezed off one-liners, referring to Mr. Bennett's family values as those of "the Gambino family." Newspapers used headlines like "Bennett's Gamble," "Holy Roller," "Virtues, Values, and Vegas"-and hundreds of variations on the theme of supposed hypocrisy.
Maybe the best news here is that media liberals are accepting the conservative idea that gambling is not virtuous. Clearly all forms of state-sanctioned and legal gambling prey on the poor and promote community decay. Mr. Bennett was right to point out that "casual" drug users cannot maintain the argument that they're harming no one when in truth they are "driving the whole [illegal-drug] enterprise." It's too bad he didn't recognize the connection between recreational gambling and the corrupt industry.
Many of Mr. Bennett's conservative colleagues justified the behavior of their friend. Wisely, they didn't say that private actions are irrelevant to public life. (Bill Bennett during the Clinton years repeatedly made the opposite point.) But both Bennett critics and defenders tended to miss this point: The truth a man proclaims is not really validated nor invalidated by the details of his life. Mr. Bennett's liberal critics suggest the virtues he's championed now ought to be mocked and discarded. Mr. Bennett's defenders also diminish the standards by calling sins mere peccadillos.
Bill Bennett's reputation-even at his moment of acute personal embarrassment-is served best if we remember what he has often taught us: Truth is not relative, and God-ordained standards of behavior make a society a better place. We ignore that eternal truth and those standards at our own peril.
The core of the Christian faith is that the validity of those truths and standards doesn't rest on our ability to measure up in some perfect manner. We're imperfect messengers of God's perfect truth and standards, so we need to confess, not pretend and brag. Modesty is truthful and it also wears well, even with skeptics.
Through the years, Mr. Bennett has been a good friend to WORLD magazine. Sometimes more, sometimes less, he has recommended WORLD to the public. In 1994, he helped us find more than 25,000 new subscribers by being our spokesman in a series of commercials on the Rush Limbaugh show. So is it embarrassing for WORLD now to learn that a friend has at least one foot of clay? Of course-and of course not.
Jesus neither rationalized away the wrongdoing of those around Him, nor distanced Himself from wrongdoers. We become big-time hypocrites when we accuse others of hypocrisy while failing to recognize the same darkness in our own hearts.