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How Bill Bennett went from 'preachy self-righteousness' to 'mind-boggling hypocrisy and opportunism': author

Alternet logo Alternet 12/6/2022 Alex Henderson
 Bill Bennett with President Roland Reagan in October 1987 © provided by AlterNet Bill Bennett with President Roland Reagan in October 1987

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Bill Bennett wasn’t the least bit shy about expressing his socially conservative views. Bennett, who served as secretary of education under President Donald Reagan and was President George H.W. Bush’s drug czar, repeatedly said that without God, morality and family values, America was lost — which was a recurring theme in his books and on his radio show. And when it came to President Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs, Bennett’s message was one of scathing condemnation, not forgiveness.

But in an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on December 6, journalist/author Jill Lawrence stresses that the strict moral code Bennett was preaching 30 or 35 years ago fell by the wayside when he allied himself with former President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement.

On November 29, Lawrence notes, Simon & Schuster published a 30th anniversary edition of Bennett’s “The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories,” first released in 1993. Morality was the dominant theme of Bennett’s Clinton-era books, which also included 1995’s “The Moral Compass: Stories for a Life's Journey” and 1998’s “The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals.” But morality, Lawrence writes, is something that Bennett obviously doesn’t demand from his ally Trump.

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“A true updated ‘Book of Virtues’ would be called ‘The Death of Virtue,’” Lawrence writes. “That is Donald Trump’s most egregious legacy to the Republican Party. Herschel Walker, the GOP candidate in today’s Georgia Senate runoff, is Trump’s latest ‘protégé,’ and Bennett himself is a bewildering embodiment of the conservative journey from preachy self-righteousness to mind-boggling hypocrisy and opportunism.”

In the late 1990s, Bennett repeatedly said that Clinton was unworthy of the Oval Office because of his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. But Bennett was happy to set his strict moral code aside when he allied himself with the thrice-married Trump, who has a long history of adultery and extramarital affairs — including one with adult film star Stormy Daniels (who, according to Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, was paid hush money to keep quiet about her affair with Trump).

“There are so many ironies,” Lawrence writes. “Where to begin? How about the 1998 Clinton impeachment stemming from an extramarital affair? The leading Republicans investigating and impeaching him were publicly priggish while behaving badly in private. As for Bennett: By 2016, he was celebrating Trump, a man unacquainted with all ten of Bennett’s yardsticks for good character, and still vilifying the Clintons…. A day before Trump was inaugurated, Bennett said he saw in Trump ‘a lot of what I saw in Ronald Reagan.’”

Bennett, Lawrence notes, “became a Trump adviser and enabler.”

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“By December 2020,” Lawrence explains, “he was casually spewing election denier claptrap — the kind that seems to worry his publisher — about a ‘fixed’ election controlled by ‘Democratic operatives,’ rife with ‘systematic corruption’ and ‘statistical anomalies.’ Bennett was close enough to Trump that they spoke on the morning of January 6 — before Trump’s speech inciting the mob that marched on the Capitol — but Bennett told CBS’ Robert Costa he couldn’t ‘recall’ what was said.”

Lawrence continues, “He now says Trump should not run in 2024 — not because of Trump’s desperate attempts to keep power after the 2020 election, and not because Trump is the last person children should emulate, but because Trump can’t win.”

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