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Bill Bennett, conservatives and gambling

By Bruce Walker
web posted May 19, 2003

Bill Bennett gambles (yawn). While I will make an ideological point in a moment, it is worth first noting how intellectually shallow and morally gutless the left has become. Conservatives have long noted that ad hominem attacks are virtually the only arrow in the quiver of the Left, but it is astounding that whining about Bill Bennett's gambling is the best ad hominem attack that Leftists can muster.

Bill BennettMr. Bennett has never condemned gambling. He readily acknowledged this behavior, which, obviously, he had never tried to hide. Unlike Slick Willie, Bennett has never pandered to the American people for votes. Mr. Bennett has been content to make his arguments in the arena of ideas, not through elective public office.

Not only is the feigned outrage lame, but the target of this outrage is almost comically irrelevant. Bill Bennett is not a loud, in-your-face conservative warrior. He travels around, makes appearances on television, writes books, and tries to preach some simple virtues. Yet attacking this calm fellow for conduct that no one really believes is terrible or hypocritical is the very best Leftists can do! How utterly pathetic!

Beyond the sniveling school yard whining that is modern leftism, the geriatric barons of the Left have chosen an issue which young, robust conservatives can parry with no effort: gambling is an integral part of conservative life. Wealth is created by risk. Culture is the product of taking chances. Gambling at a casino is banking against the odds, but taking risks - good ones or long shots - is the only way to make anything worth having.

Leftists love risk-free societies: guaranteed health care, social entitlements, automatic academic promotion, safe sex, gun control, unmerited self-esteem and so forth. How many times did Al Gore warn of "risky" this or "risky" that during his presidential campaign? How often do leftists try to terrify Americans with the greater dangers of acting compared with the opportunities of trying?

Conservatives believe in the opportunity to try, the opportunity to fail, the opportunity to learn and the opportunity to succeed. Conservatives also believe in the right to define "success" and "failure" and "risk." Few people doubt that cigarettes increase health risks, but few would argue that a badly wounded marine on Iwo Jima should be denied a Lucky Strike, if he asked for one.

Gambling is more than placing chips in Las Vegas. It is planting crops in lands with changeable climates. It is drilling for oil where oil may never be found. It is working on wonder drugs with the knowledge that a lifetime of work may result in nothing.

Gambling is having children and raising children. It is marrying. It is the ultimate in personal accountability. When Bill Bennett gambles, it is a fair bet (pardon the pun) that he knows the odds and tries to maximum his odds. It is also almost likely that Bennett receives a recreational benefit which outweighs any financial losses from his gambling.

Nothing good much is possible without a gamble - and investment of time and of money which may not yield corresponding benefits. Commercial activity, innovation and invention are perfect examples of risk - often risks that are considered long shots by most people - producing big gains. The benefits of these gains, like the wealth produced by Andrew Carnegie or John Rockefeller, are not consumed by the winner but rather spread around society as a whole.

Investment in the stock market, which has long been recognized as a critical lubricant for large business enterprises, is so different from a game of stud poker in a casino. The very act of risk is indispensable to the expansion of wealth. Misers hoard gold under their mattresses, doing no good for anyone, while gamblers put gold into action.

While this example of gambling may seem a bit too mercenary for many conservatives, another type of gambling is clearly noble by any standard. Americans have risked their lives and risked the lives of other Americans in campaigns with odds worse than Bill Bennett faced in Las Vegas.

Washington tossed the dice when he crossed the Delaware; if he failed that night, almost certainly the revolution itself would have failed. When Jimmy Doolittle and his B-25 Mitchell bombers off the deck of USS Hornet to bomb Tokyo that was a gamble.

Later, at Midway, America won because of two gambles. First, Nimitz risked the last fraction of American fleet power to face a much stronger Japanese force. Second, Lt. Commander Wade McCluskey of the USS Enterprise gambled that flying his handful of SBD Dauntless dive bombers over the last bank of clouds might catch the Japanese carriers unguarded. The two gambles worked, and the entire course of the Second World War changed.

Eisenhower gambled that the weather would be good during Operation Overlord. He was right, but he was almost wrong. MacArthur took the desperate American soldiers at the Pusan perimeter and order them to hold, while he threw the wildest left hook in military history, completely unhinging the communist invasion of South Korea.

Perhaps the greatest gambler in America today is President Bush. How many times have leftist pundits said "Well, Bush is gambling his presidency on this."? Imagine all that could have gone wrong in Operation Iraqi Freedom!

Think of what might have happened if Governor George W. Bush had not decided to appeal the crooked Florida Supreme Court's decision after Election 2000. What, today, could President Bush do if he had not laid his presidential prestige on the line in the November 2002 elections?

Gambles, risks, adventures - these are the very spirit of conservatism. There is nothing noble about recklessness, especially but calculated risks are something else entirely. George Washington kept his tattered army together, made the critical decision and then led his army across the Delaware. He was a poker player. He bet, and we won. Conservatives are fine with gambling, and we believe that we are in good company.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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