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The end to the fighting in Iraq posed a grave crisis for pundits. No other story was at hand to fully occupy their time and observational skills, not even the Laci Peterson murder. Then, miraculously, came the William Bennett expos�. According to a story in The Washington Monthly, Bennett, author of “The Book of Virtues,” “The Moral Compass” and several other works extolling virtue over vice, has reportedly lost $8 million gambling in casinos over the past decade. Deus ex slot machina! The pundits had work again. Liberal commentators have been quick to pounce, and conservatives have been just as speedy in defense. But this sort of traditional Left versus Right warfare will soon pass. The true importance of the reaction to the Bennett story lies within the Right alone. For half a century, two ideological strains — the forces of Good Government, and the forces of Libertarianism — have vied for the soul of the Republican Party. Both strains stand in sharp relief against the fiery backdrop of the defense of Bill Bennett. One strain, Libertarianism, is likely to emerge strengthened, even, perhaps, ascendant, from this fight. William J. Bennett, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, former Secretary of Education, former Drug Czar, and full-time writer and speaker on morality in public life, is not Cotton Mather. He is a big, gruff guy from a working class Irish Catholic background. He dated Linda Ronstadt in college, smoked for many years, and, according to those who have dined with him, has always savored the joys of the table. (Gluttony is not among the vices addressed in “The Book of Virtues.”) He is also a first-rate intellect. In 1993, after leaving government service, he published his first edition of “The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators,” a compilation and analysis of statistics on crime, teenage pregnancy, drug use and other social pathologies. “The Index” has been reissued in several subsequent editions, most recently in 2001. He also began producing a series of books and lectures on morality and virtue, which have garnered him the title of “America’s Virtue Guru.” His consistent theme has been that private vices matter to the public polity. Bennett has never condemned gambling in his works, nor has he ever denied his own participation. Instead, he has admitted he has gambled all his life, comparing it to drinking: “If you can’t handle it, don’t do it.” On the other hand, Bennett has never disclosed his hobby’s multimillion-dollar scope. One might even say he has dissembled. He has pointed to church bingo as the genesis of his habit. Today, Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos reportedly vie for his patronage, offering free limousine service, hotel rooms and meals — perks not routinely available to church ladies and bingo enthusiasts. Liberal commentators were beside themselves with glee when the story broke. Michael Kinsley, a 50-something journalist who still writes like the smartest boy in freshman English, exulted: “As the joyous word spread, crack flowed like water through inner-city streets, family court judges began handing out free divorces and children lit bonfires of the ‘The Book of Virtues,’ ‘More Virtuous Virtues,’ ‘Who Cheesed My Virtue?,’ ‘Moral Tails: Virtue for Dogs,’ etc. And cynics everywhere thought, for just a moment: Maybe there is a God after all.” That kind of left-wing gloating drove conservatives mad, and they rallied around Bennett. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg found “it hard to recall a more asinine and intellectually shameless ‘gotcha’ story in [his] adult lifetime” — which lifetime is not as long as Kinsley’s, but long enough to make his point. But not all conservatives joined this coalition of the willing-to-overlook-slots. The American Spectator’s Web site dissented from the Right’s attempt to “whitewash the unseemly public vision of Bill Bennett sitting before a slot machine for three hours at a time to unwind after a speech before a family values group. . . .” James Dobson of Focus on the Family censored Bennett. So did other social conservative organizations. Conservatives like Andrew Sullivan and Hugh Hewitt took to writing about other conservatives and pondering the right position for the Right to take. The Right’s dilemma is deeper — and much more interesting — than the Left’s gloating. This dilemma arises from a schism whose fault lines trace back half a century. In the 1940s, as Republicans dug themselves out from the New Deal deluge, they divided into two camps. Eastern establishment Republicans accepted the New Deal notion of enlarged government, but insisted that Republicans could run that government more economically, efficiently and ethically. The other camp, mainly from the Midwest, repudiated the New Deal and the whole idea of big government. They favored a minimal role for government as domestic constable and frontier guard. They called the Eastern establishmentarians “Me-Too Republicans.” The Easterners called them “Neanderthals.” In fact, it would be fairer to call one camp the “Good Government” Republicans, and the other the “Libertarian” Republicans. Good Government Republicans were championed by Thomas E. Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon. Libertarian Republicans were led by Robert A. Taft, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. The lines between the camps were never sharp, and most successful politicians tried to appeal to both. Still, there were undeniable dividing milestones. The nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964 marked a triumph for the Libertarians. The ensuing electoral disaster led to their retreat, but only temporarily. In 1976, President Gerald Ford, an exemplar of the Good Government Republicans, barely held off a primary challenge by then-Governor Reagan. In 1980, Reagan returned and defeated another Good Government Republican, the elder George Bush, for the nomination. Reagan then proceeded to win the White House, thus avenging Goldwater and establishing the dominance of the Libertarian camp. After Reagan’s election, the Good Government Republicans underwent a transformation. They remained comfortable with the notion of a central role for the federal government. But they no longer envisioned that role as regulating the economy. Instead, they saw the federal government promoting civic virtues, such as public service and patriotism, and promoting private virtues, such as abstinence and chastity. This transformation coincided with an influx into the party of disgruntled former Democratic intellectuals — Bill Bennett, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the so-called neo-conservatives. The Libertarians also underwent a transformation during these years, leavened by the intellectual influences of Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek and Ayn Rand. They grew more academic, cosmopolitan and tolerant. In the 1980s, Libertarian Republicans championed the war on inflation, and Good Government Republicans championed the war on drugs. In the 1990s, for Good Government Republicans, Bill Clinton was the Devil, and his impeachment a holy cause. For Libertarian Republicans, Clinton’s tax hikes and racial quotas were more sinful than his dalliances with interns. Today the Good Government wing of the party worries about the divorce rate, abortion and homosexuality. The Libertarian wing worries about the size of the budget and the marginal tax rate. Overlap between the two camps remains. Successful politicians like George W. Bush manage to appeal to both. Indeed, most thinking Republicans might be said to possess both a Good Government and a Libertarian brain hemisphere. Still, differences are visible, especially in their private lives. Good Government Republicans read “Commentary.” Libertarians read “Reason.” At holidays, the Good Government crowd gives copies of Bill Bennett’s “Moral Compass.” Libertarians give Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose.” For entertainment, Good Government folks watch “South Pacific.” Libertarians watch “South Park.” The Good Government crowd still watches Charlton Heston as Moses. Libertarians watch Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix.” Good Government attorneys refer to Judge Robert Bork, and “Slouching Towards Gomorrah.” Libertarian lawyers refer to Judge Alex Kozinski escaping from Romania. When pressed, members of both camps will admit they “experimented” with marijuana in college. But the Good Government Republican will recall with a frown; the Libertarian will barely suppress a giggle. Bill Bennett has been a pre-eminent member of the Good Government wing of the party. He believes private morality is bound up with civic health and that drug consumption, children out of wedlock, promiscuity and other personal foibles are proper subjects of public attention. That is why he condemned Clinton’s immorality so strenuously. “Where’s the outrage?” he demanded, as the public yawned. But, in light of the gambling disclosure, listen to Bennett’s defenders. “What he does with his money is his own business,” writes James Glassman, in a typical defense. “He can buy a house in Aspen or a private jet or collect impressionist paintings or travel to the Antarctic or dine out with family and friends at expensive restaurants every night. It’s up to him.” Jonah Goldberg of National Review crosses ideological lines to quote The New Republic’s Peter Beinart with approval: “This is something he did in his private life. . . . [W]hat people do in their private lives, unless there’s some blatant, serious hypocrisy, is really not anyone’s business.” Notice the themes. It’s his life. It’s his money. Let him do what he likes as long as he doesn’t harm others. This is classic Libertarianism mobilized in the defense of the champion of Good Government. There is nothing wrong with this defense — other than the incongruity between its philosophy and its beneficiary. But the philosophy could apply in other contexts. What if the former Drug Czar were a casual marijuana user? What if he frequented gay bars? “What he does with his money is his own business.” What if he and Mrs. Bennett traded partners with Mr. and Mrs. Jack Kemp? “What people do in their private lives . . . is really not anyone’s business.” And so, without fanfare or notice, the Good Government wing of the Republican Party has made a virtue (no pun intended) of necessity and has embraced the creed of the Libertarian wing. Leave Bill Bennett’s private life alone!, they cry. Very well. Do unto others. In the 1960s, there was a saying: A conservative is a liberal who got mugged. For the new political era, a libertarian is a conservative who got caught. Contributing Writer Lawrence J. Siskind, of San Francisco’s Harvey Siskind Jacobs, specializes in intellectual property law. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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