Culture War Heroes

William Bennett and the right make might at a Scottsdale resort

Munsil is a thinking man's poster boy who knows his case law as well as his scripture. He is comfortable on camera, and is a convincing speaker. Although tonight he's competing with the chocolate cake for attention, and losing.

Isn't gluttony one of the deadly sins?
There's a piece of cake sitting on my assigned chair, but I stick by the waiter's station and listen to Munsil's rap. He dives into the blood of the Columbine High massacre.

"When I taught ethics the last three years at Southwestern College, I would ask my students as an exercise in determining if it's ever permissible to lie 'What would you do if a crazed lunatic burst into this classroom, pointed a gun at your head, and asked "Do you believe in God?"' Well, my hypothetical exercise became a tragic reality."

Munsil beatifies the two girls in the Columbine library who were asked by the gunmen, point blank: "Do you believe in God?" Both answered "Yes I do," and were immediately shot in the face. One lived. The other, Cassie Bernall, 18, and born again, has gone to glory.

America was founded as a Christian country, Munsil says. "'Do you still believe in God?' The future of our nation depends on our answer to that question. There's a gun pointed at the head of American civilization. Only this time, the gun is in our own hands."

With great verbal fanfare, Munsil passes the mike to Culture War commandant William Bennett, who, upon taking the podium, receives a 32-second standing ovation.

Bennett is fond of saying the world will forever owe a debt to Ronald Reagan for "vanquishing Communism." That's probably because Bennett owes his fame to Ronald Reagan, who appointed him Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1981. He served there until 1985, then as Secretary of Education, '85-'88, then as drug czar (director of the National Office on Drug Control Policy) under President Bush from 1989-1990--an assignment that freed Bennett from the culture of chain-smoking.

Since then, Bennett has become the most popular conservative Christian commentator and speaker-for-hire in America, and has written or edited 10 books, including the 1993 best seller The Book of Virtues ("a 'moral reader' for children of all ages") and last year's The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals.

Which ideals? Outrage over what? The specters of America's Founding Fathers are raised many times during the Evening With William Bennett, as they are quoted talking of God and country. Bennett himself quotes President Clinton's middle-namesake, Thomas Jefferson, three times, and describes the Monica Lewinsky scandal as one of those rare, singular national events that "provide us with a window onto our times, our moral order . . . how we view politics and power; virtue and vice; public trust and respect for the law; sexual morality and standards of personal conduct."

But what of the DNA test results that proved that Thomas Jefferson had sired several children out of wedlock with black women he owned on paper? What sort of window does that provide, and exactly which traditional moral principles was TJ exemplifying with those midnight runs to the slave quarters?

Bennett doesn't tackle that one.
And like Munsil, he speaks dramatically about the Columbine shootings and the need to protect our children without ever once even mentioning gun control. Bennett says Cassie Bernall was not only a martyr but deserving of sainthood.

"Cassie showed us the power of an idea, the power of faith, and the power of witness more profoundly than anything ever could."

Bennett's statement comes three days after members of his army, conservative lawmakers in the U.S. Senate, voted down a bill to make age and background checks mandatory for all firearm sales at gun shows, such as the one in Colorado where a friend of the Columbine killers purchased the pistol-gripped, 30-round 9mm combat rifle used to murder Cassie Bernall.

It would take great moral courage, and carry a considerable political cost, for a conservative of Bennett's stature to suggest that, along with censoring video games, impeaching a president and installing prayer in schools, another way to protect America's children in these tumultuous times might be to restrict access to lethal weapons.

Bennett chooses to ignore the issue.
What would Jesus do?

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