Tearing down Bill Bennett doesn

Wednesday, May 28, 2003 at 1:00am

We live in a spin-filled world, and it's getting worse. The sad case of Dr. William Bennett is a vivid example of that. His critics have hung him in the town square with a sign saying "hypocrite." But let's take a look at the big picture.

When President Bill Clinton was exposed for having lied under oath in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, his defenders, mostly on the left, screamed that lying about sex was permissible even under oath. Even though Clinton had taken the presidential oath to uphold the laws of the land, and perjury is included in that basket, the word hypocrite was never entertained by the left.

When the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Clinton's spiritual advisor, was exposed for fathering a child out of wedlock and then paying the mother, his mistress, with tax-exempt funds, few on the left said a word. And certainly the word hypocrite could have been applied in this situation.

But when Bill Bennett was found to have a predilection for legal gambling, the author of The Book of Virtues was vilified by leftist pundits like Michael Kinsley and Frank Rich, who wielded the hypocrite description like a sledgehammer.

You can decide whether Bennett is a hypocrite or not, but the tactics used by the left in this matter are surely disturbing. If you read Bennett's books, his main thesis is that parents and teachers should be good role models for children and provide them with traditional moral values that engender respect for others and themselves.

So why are Kinsley and Rich so thrilled that a messenger of this kind has been damaged by slot machines? I know Bennett is a conservative and blasted the moral tone set by Clinton, but his main crusade is to help children succeed in this hyper-competitive society.

Bennett's wife is the president of an organization called "Best Friends," which mentors inner-city children from high-risk families. Best Friends does a tremendous amount of good, and the Bennetts donate their time and money to the cause without calling press conferences touting their largesse.

By contrast, Frank Rich, one of Bennett's main tormentors, entitled his New York Times attack on Bennett "Tupac's Revenge." Rich's unbelievably harebrained theme was that the rap music spawned by the late Tupac Shakur has prospered while Bennett, who has criticized gangsta rap, has been taken down. Rich is happy about this. Rich apparently believes that lyrics glorifying drugs, violence and the abuse of women are far more worthy than platitudes from The Book of Virtues.

The lynching of Bennett has been designed to send a clear message: If you dare to make judgments about personal behavior, watch out if you have any sins yourself. Of course, everybody has sins, and if the standard for making moral pronouncements is personal perfection, then no one would be able to make any.

And that is the goal of the secularists, a judgment-free society. They believe that there is no place in American society for standards of conduct based on moral principles. The secularists want a behavioral free-fire zone, and God, pardon the spiritual reference, help you if you disagree with that.

But nearly every poll on the matter demonstrates that most Americans do disagree with the secularists and want a society based on Judeo-Christian philosophy. But the secularists, as Bennett found out, hold enormous power.

Bennett gave the witch-hunters rope, and they hung him with it. But those of us watching this brutal display should think about its wider implications. The personal destruction of a man espousing the protection of children surely is devoid of any virtue. And the conduct of the people participating in that destruction is certainly unbecoming.

TV news anchor Bill O'Reilly is host of the FOX News show The O'Reilly Factor.

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