While opinions differ as to whether gambling is a vice, few would regard it as a virtue. This is why the news of Bill Bennett's fondness for high-stakes gambling is so disappointing. As the nation's leading critic of America's virtue deficit, Bennett, like it or not, bears a greater burden regarding his personal conduct than the average citizen.

Bennett has now done the right thing by renouncing his behavior and making the decision to change his ways. This is a refreshing, yet all too uncommon practice among public leaders. It is an example for all of us who promote virtue in the public square.

Some gloating pundits, of course, have pounced on the story to accuse Bennett of being a moralizing hypocrite. In his defense, Bennett said, "I adhere to the law. I don't play the `milk money.' I don't put my family at risk, and I don't owe anyone anything." Bennett, who has been a featured speaker at Family Research Council events, says he pays taxes on his winnings. "I've gambled all my life," he said, "and it's never been a moral issue with me. I liked church bingo when I was growing up." It should also be noted that when confronted with the reports of his gambling habits by Newsweek magazine, Bennett freely admitted that "I play fairly high stakes."

There has been no cover-up, no abuse of a public office, and no lying under oath.

In addition, the motivations of casino employees for apparently leaking massive amounts of confidential financial information have been insufficiently explored. The online magazine Slate offers conflicting hypotheses. One is that the casinos want to embarrass Bennett's organization Empower America, which has listed the expansion of gambling as negative cultural indicator. The other is that they wanted Bennett to be seen as a role model, giving other pro-family, pro-virtue Americans implicit permission to indulge a taste for gambling.

Although Bennett has not violated any laws, the sheer scale of his gambling activities is troubling. Reports that Bennett does not dispute suggest he has wagered millions of dollars over the last decade and that casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City extend to him "high-roller" status. Christians are called upon to be good stewards of God's blessings, and observers are understandably wondering whether Bennett's earnings could have been put to better use.

In addition, while good people may disagree as to whether all gambling is morally tainted, there can be no question as to the negative social consequences that too often result from it. The gambling industry attracts and fosters such other vices as prostitution, substance abuse, spousal abuse, divorce, and family abandonment. That's why it's so troubling that many politicians across the country have come to see gambling revenues - from lotteries to slot machines to casinos - as a convenient way to avoid real fiscal discipline. In reality, however, gambling amounts to a highly regressive tax upon the poor-who, unlike Bennett, can ill afford their losses.

William Bennett has been revealed to be a flawed human being. This should come as no surprise. We are, after all, made of dust. What is surprising is that liberal cynics are so surprised. Those of us who profess a Christian faith have always said that every human being--yes, including the most outspoken arbiter of virtue--is a sinner, both in nature and in action. That's why we acknowledge our need of a Savior. We are called not to a state of perfection, but to repentance.

And repenting--which means not self-flagellation but a change of direction--appears to be what Bennett has now done. On May 5, he issued the following statement: "I have done too much gambling, and this is not an example I wish to set...Therefore, my gambling days are over."

Good for Mr. Bennett. It's what a man of virtue would do.

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