The Corner

Politics & Policy

What Bill Bennett Used to Understand

According to Bill Bennett, conservatives who refuse to support Donald Trump “suffer from a terrible case of moral superiority and put their own vanity and taste above the interest of the country.” Bennett’s comments, during a Fox News interview, came in the context of a discussion about Trump’s recent speech in North Carolina that included expressions of regret about some of the candidate’s past statements as well as attempts to persuade black voters to consider the GOP ticket this year.

Human beings are flawed creatures. We all fall short of the mark. We all fail to live up to our own standards of morality and decorum on occasion. Those who oppose Trump would never reject a good-faith effort on his part to admit past errors and seek to atone or make up for them. But a speech or two — particularly when they don’t contain any specifics and clearly represent the ideas of someone else rather than the speaker — do not constitute a significant change of attitude or behavior. They don’t let candidates off the hook for longstanding patterns of thought and behavior. Past conduct is, indeed, a pretty useful guide for what will come next. And character counts. It isn’t irrelevant to the ability to lead or the choices that voters should make when they cast ballots — a decision that is, after all, about bestowing the coercive powers of government on specific human beings, not about picking legislative proposals or party platforms.

Bennett and others who are enabling Trump’s seduction of the conservative movement ought to know better than to make excuses for Trump’s lifetime of deceitful, crass, and abhorrent behavior. They ought to recognize that using dishonorable means to achieve your ends is unwise and counterproductive in the long run. Here are some of the most persuasive statements on the subject you will ever find:

“It is our character that supports the promise of our future — far more than particular government programs or policies.”

“The President is the symbol of who the people of the United States are. He is the person who stands for us in the eyes of the world and the eyes of our children.”

“If we are surrounded by the trivial and the vicious, it is all too easy to make our peace with it.”

“People of good character are not all going to come down on the same side of difficult political and social issues. Good people — people of character and moral literacy — can be conservative, and good people can be liberal. We must not permit our disputes over thorny political questions to obscure the obligation we have to offer instruction to all our young people in the area in which we have, as a society, reached a consensus: namely, on the importance of good character, and some of its pervasive particulars.”

Bill Bennett has a way with words, doesn’t he?

John Hood is a syndicated columnist and the president of the John William Pope Foundation, a North Carolina–based grantmaker.

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