The Corner

Balko Scores An Indirect Hit

Radley Balko offers a very thoughtful critique of me and my defense of Bennett. He dug up one of my favorite editorials from the Wall Street Journal to do it. You should read the whole piece, especially since I’ve got to walk Cosmo and don’t have time to go into it in detail right now. But here’s an excerpt and a short response will follow:

Here, it would seem, is the ultimate test for cultural conservatives to prove that “No Guardrails” isn’t a partisan excuse to snipe at Hollywood and academic liberals, but rather is a serious commentary on the importance of elitist example-setting.

They failed. With a few notable exceptions from religious right advocacy groups, conservative pundits generally rushed to Bennett’s aid. Most, in fact, outright dismissed “No Guardrails” thinking as it applies to Bennett, and instead actually embraced the very type of “elites are allowed to sin, because they can afford to” excuses the Wall Street Journal was so critical of.

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg is a fine example, both because of the way he so articulately laid out this position, but also because of his unofficial position as a mouthpiece for younger conservatives.

“Bennett can afford his sins, too,” Goldberg writes. “But just as a glutton would be a moral fool to champion gluttony to someone with a heart condition, Bennett understands that a gambler would be a moral fool to champion gambling to people who cannot afford it.”

In other words, Bennett — as a rich man and an elite — is subject to a different set of rules than are the common folk. He can gamble all he likes, because he’s rich, so long as he doesn’t recommend the practice to those less fortunate.

And yes, that in fact is my position. It’s not how I would articulate it, but yes I believe we should hold to higher standards in public than we do in private. Hollywood elites would bother me much, much less if they didn’t try to rationalize their personal behavior as good for everybody. Queer theorists wouldn’t bother me very much if they applied their theory out of sight. Libertarians have a problem understanding or accepting that the public commons requires public self-restraint. We have a tragedy of the commons in moral terms when each person selfishly and egotistically insists that his or her own morals and lifestyle would be good for everybody. As I’ve quoted Burke saying a million times, mankind learns at the school of examples and will learn from no other. Well, examples must be public, not private, for people to learn from them.

I know my implied — and expressed — elitism and anti-populism bothers a lot of people. So be it, I’m always ready to have that argument. I’m sure my position will force me into uncomfortable arguments someetimes, including alas inconsistent ones. But as I’ve written before consistency is often a red-herring.

Again Bennett gambled too much — though it’s looking more and more that the $8 million number is a gross distortion, Josh Green admitted the other night that Bennett’s losses were closer to $1 million. But Bennett didn’t flaunt his gambling, he didn’t celebrate it, he didn’t advocate it for others. Indeed, Green’s indictment is that Bennett’s in the wrong for gambling in secret. Anyway I could go on, but Cosmo’s chuffing at me.

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