Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Gambler? Not according to McManus

Here’s yet another look at Bill Bennett’s gambling problem from the perspective of James McManus, a writer who just published a best-selling book on the World Series of Poker. (How he came to write that story is intriguing in its own right: he took his $10,000 advance from the Atlantic Monthly and bought himself into the world-renowned game and did well enough to give a first-hand account of the lucrative event.) McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs and Binion’s World Series of Poker, writes in a May 6 NYT op-ed, "Virtues, Values and Vegas," that Bennett’s so-called gambling woes are none of the public’s business. He raises the ante, ha ha, by saying Bennett was not enough of a gambler, but I’ll let those interested read the article themselves.

I disagree on both counts, but found the op-ed thought-provoking enough--especially the political connection he makes near the end--to bring to your attention.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Every Wed, night for the past 5 weeks I have tunned in to the Travel Channel at 12:00 to watch the finals (top 6) of the semifinals of the World Championships of Poker. Each Semifinal/ District? is held at a different Casino. The winner ends up with about $1,000,000 worth of chips, of which he takes about $300,000 to the finals and gets to keep $250,000 just for making it. In each semifinal or district the top 45 placers get some money back. (If you finish 45 you get refunded your $10,000 starting money.) This is an intense game! Everytime I watch it I admire the skill and political instincts of the best poker players in the world. Not to diss the degree I am about to receive from Ashland, but supposing I had paid some late fees for over due books at the Columbus public library and invested my tuition money in the entrance fee, I get the feeling that this would have been the best test of political skills possible! The game is just intense, it is really worth watching, most of the people in the finals are pros, some have law degrees, one had a philosophy Phd from Harvard, one was a truck driver, another was a grandmaster chess player, and yet another was someone who owned a car dealership. These guys have guts, and brains, a lot of cunning and a certain form of gritty prudence. It is not just a game of chance, there is something to the skills of the best Poker players in the world that cannot be defined, explained or learned in a classroom. While it could be argued that loosing $10,000 gambling is an immoral act one gets the feeling that this is one of the last arenas and outlets for a certain noble and manly will to power. If any of you get the chance sit down and tune in to the travel channel Wed. at Midnight, watch the intense thinking, people-reading, discipline, balls and patience required to be one of the best poker players in the world. I am in awe. It makes me wish I had $10,000 with which to test myself. If Bill Bennett had lost the $10,000 entrance fee for playing in the World Championship of Poker, I would be the first to defend the action as money well spent.

"Bennett’s so-called gambling woes are none of the public’s business."

Last week, Robert Alt (and a bunch of us yahoos) discussed peace-nik, Mike Farrell’s, in the words of Mr. Alt, "points for consistency--a foolish consistency, but consistency nonetheless." While I don’t claim to be a prophet, my take on this issue of "consistency" seems almost ominous now. I wrote:

"I still think the larger issue is the political climate I’m sensing out there. I could be wrong, but this refusal to be candidly wrong (without all the sophmoric tears, hoop jumping and word dancing) may be indicative of how deep we remain mired in the culture wars. It seems to me that 9/11 has served to entrench those among the elite who are waging this war along the ideological divide. Ideology can be a heavy taskmaster. He demands such things as "consistency," and tends to be unforgiving when errs and cracks are found one’s theology."

So far, from what I heard from Bennett, his defenders and detractors, I’d say we’ve a real mess on our hands, here. And while I’m not one to encourage confession for confession’s sake, I tend to look at these sorts of moral issues like I view the "When does life begin?" question in the abortion debate: We don’t know for sure when a fetus becomes a human soul, therefore to err on the side of caution is the best road to choose!

Bill Bennett and his defenders ought to do the same. Get above this thing, take the high road, the noble road. The American people, I believe, are incredibly forgiving and understanding people.

Especially when they sense genuine sincerity.

The following is a Letter to the editor of my local rag. I would guess it’s pretty typical of those printed all across America’s "fruited plain" these days:

In Bill Bennett’s world, his own vices are fine

Thursday, May 8, 2003

I can only hope that news reports of William J. Bennett’s compulsive gambling will finally put an end to his undeserved reputation as America’s conscience.

Bennett has always been little more than a huckster, cynically selling moral outrage to a gullible populace for $26.95 a book, rather like Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. Now we are treated to the author of The Death of Outrage rolling out the same excuses for his own behavior -- lack of a victim, ability to stop if he wants to and, my favorite, his relative success at his chosen vice -- that traditionally have been used by alcoholics, drug addicts and patrons of prostitutes.

Although he excoriates these people in his books, Bennett is blind to the plank in his own eye. When looking inward, Bennett seems to forget about the vices of avarice and hubris, as well as the virtues of self-control and economic stewardship.

Unfortunately, as long as Americans continue to accept such puerile, self-centered and opportunistic reasoning as moral guidance, we will lack the means for serious ethical debate about important public issues.



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