Last night on Hardball I didn’t get to say much about William Bennett. Chris Matthews was pressing Ken Connor, of the Family Research Council, on Bennett’s behalf, and didn’t turn to me much for a defense. Of course, Connor is right that gambling can have real social costs. In all these moral questions, it’s always a matter of balancing social costs against the values of privacy and freedom. As a society, and as individuals, we strike the balance differently on different issues. Gambling is legal. Indeed, the state in many ways promotes it. Bennett’s Church is relatively liberal on the matter, and Bennett is wealthy enough so that amounts that would matter more for most people matter less for him. Gambling may not be a virtue, but it’s not really a vice either–at least when it doesn’t harm the gambler’s family. Bennett’s critics have tried to trap him in a ridiculous all-or-nothing stereotype of social conservatism. There’s no reason why you can’t oppose adultery or perjury and gamble as well–even gamble a lot, if you have the money and know your limits. Bennett’s behavior was certainly nothing to brag about, but he kept it private and never denied it. With the spotlight on him (unjustly) he’s forced to stop. But that doesn’t mean the scandal was legitimate in the first place.