My friend Will Saletan argues that Bennett’s defenders (me included) are wrong to say Bennett’s not a hypocrite because Bennett criticized upscale recreational drug users. I’ve heard this fifty times now from emailers and radio show hosts and it’s still a bogus argument. Gambling is not drug use and drug use is not gambling. Saletan asserts that making the moral hazard argument about smoking pot condemns Bennett for not upholding the same standard for gambling. That’s a fine point if Bennett ever considered the two things morally, legally or psychologically equivalent. He never has — or at least none of the Washington Monthly’s and Newsweek’s researchers have been to prove he has. Saletan is simply asserting that they are equivalent in both objective reality and in Bennett’s own heart. They’re neither. Smoking pot is illegal almost everywhere in the United States. Using illegal drugs is — duh — illegal everywhere. For this comparison to be apt and for Bennett to be a hypocrite A) gambling would have to be illegal B) Bennett would have to support its illegality C) Bennett would have to have condemned gambling the way he’s condemned drug use.
I’m consistently amazed by these liberals who simply assert that gambling is a terrible moral failing and destructive social force simply because, it seems, Bill Bennett does it. Where were Saletan, Kinsley, Green, Marshall and Alter before? Why have they never condemned gambling if they think it’s such an obvious sin? Comparing illegal drugs and legal gambling is an apples and oranges comparison, and not just because one is legal and one is illegal (though that is a huge distinction since Bennett is in effect saying that the state has the authority forcibly to prevent you from doing one but has no authority to stop you from doing the other). They are also different because they are simply different things. Simply to assert they are the same and then hijack rhetoric from an apple and apply it to an orange doesn’t work.