"Culture War Is Hell"

By Louis Bayard

By Letters to the Editor
Published April 19, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Read the story.

Thank you, Mr. Bayard, for puncturing the ridiculous "my America is better than your America" hypocrisy continually spewed by Bill Bennett and the "moral clarity" crowd.

As a self-professed liberal who has had the privilege to live overseas (including the Middle East), I don't need him to tell me why and how I should love my country. We live in the greatest nation in the world, but we are not perfect. What makes us great and makes us strong is the ability to question the actions of our government and learn through experience.

Instead of fighting for these ideals, Bill Bennett and his ilk pay lip service to freedom and then castigate those who exercise it. His worldview has more in common with fascism then the wisdom of our founding fathers.

As for the notion that exercising our free will weakens our nation, will someone please tell me how I am helping Osama bin Laden by asking whether we should be fighting in the Philippines instead of concentrating on mopping up al-Qaida and strengthening the Karzai government?

How am I instigating the overthrow of President Bush when I ask how it is that we could go from saying Osama was the top threat facing our country (I remember that poster from the Old West: "Wanted. Dead or Alive") to saying it is Saddam Hussein, now that we can't find Osama?

And how am I corrupting the children of our nation when I ask if the motives of the terrorists were perhaps a bit more nuanced than "they hate freedom"? Could they actually just hate Israel, our allegiance with Israel and some of our government policies in the Middle East?

As someone who believes wholeheartedly in the greatness of America, and believes in the principles for which we stand, I get just a bit tired of the lectures from the holier-than-thou brigade on the right. Especially when the guy calling for "moral clarity" and urging us to fight skipped out when he had the opportunity to serve the nation he so loves. Brave now that it is someone else's war, eh Bill?

P.S. Bill: If we need to teach kids to love their country, then the terrorists have already won. Like most kids, I learned to love my country from my family and just the opportunity to live in such a free and wonderful nation. But what do I know? I'm a liberal.

-- Jeremy Warren

So, William Bennett wants Americans to be educated in morality and citizenship? That's fantastic, I agree that we, as a nation, do not adequately teach these values. I will not, however, let Mr. Bennett teach my son. Mr. Bennett failed as drug czar and as secretary of education and now wants to tell us how to be moral. I get the impression that he blames his failures on the American people; this is not the lesson I want my child to learn. It does not take courage to be William Bennett; it only takes pomposity and the knowledge that there will always be someone to listen to his ravings and buy his books.

-- Iain Abernathy

I congratulate Louis Bayard on his exposure of William Bennett for what he really is -- a pompous, self-important, Republican flack who has so little self-knowledge that he actually takes himself seriously as a self-appointed national moral scold. He obviously does not realize that many of the rest of us see him as little more than a self-aggrandizing, profiteering gasbag with nothing of importance to say. What baffles me is that anyone actually pays any attention to him.

-- James L. Head

Bayard is just a smartass! If he really wanted to criticize Bennett he should have observed that Bennett simply plagiarizes the classics without mercy; he probably never himself had an original thought. But his thoughts, wherever their provenance, are still good and valid.

-- Norman Ravitch

There is no mystery to Bill Bennett. The man fits the classic definition of fascist like hip huggers on Cameron Diaz.

Combine his warped sense of morality, religious fervor, unbridled nationalism, sick patriotism and use of brute force to carry out his agenda and when you look up fascism in the dictionary, there's Uncle Billy staring back at you like a demented Goering of the Christian radical right.

The man oozes hypocrisy like pus from a boil. He is concerned about a lack of moral clarity, yet worships the Reagan administration, which trained, funded and wrote the torture manuals for death squads in Central America that murdered tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Because of nutty religious prophesies (shall we say cult-like?), he condones the continued subjugation of the Palestinians and a one-sided Middle East policy.

His shtick is education, yet he gutted the Education Department and defends a system that sees inner city schools decay while wealthier communities' children sit in plush schools with all the amenities.

If there is a God, may She save us from the likes of Bill Bennett.

-- Rex Meade

I read Louis Bayard's article on William Bennett, and I agreed with it for the most part.

I'd just like to clarify one thing. First, I attended a Jesuit high school. I'm no longer Catholic. I don't know anything about William Bennett's Jesuit associations, but I do know that in high school, much of the Jesuit religious study I got was VERY critical of the U.S., especially in our involvement in Central America. I learned the term "social justice" from the Jesuits.

I'm not about to defend the Catholic Church OR William Bennett, but I do find it a strange lapse that Louis Bayard accuses Bennett of sweeping generalizations ... while making an uncharacteristic one of his own.

-- Joe Sislow

Since the Jesuits turned to liberation theology some time ago, perhaps the author needs to pick another Catholic order for comparison. Even so, he scores an important point. Joe Breen and the Catholic Legion of Decency adumbrated both Mr. Bennett and Gen. McCaffrey. Why do so many people raised in Catholic culture have such a strong drive to tell everyone else what to do?

-- Loren Harmon

I wish that Louis Bayard, in an otherwise deft filleting of that insufferable windbag William Bennett, had found time to mention the most telling fact about this self-appointed scourge of moral relativism and champion of patriotic duty: namely, when it was his turn to serve, Bennett "had other plans" (to quote another chickenhawk, Dick Cheney) and got himself a nice, safe deferment.

-- Tresy Kilbourne

Cheers to Louis Bayard for calling Bill Bennett on his dubious forms of patriotism and morality. Bennett seems to ignore that world politics are too complex to assess with a "heroes and villains" mentality. His rigidity seems more at odds with American ideals than any of the dissenters he cites.

-- Charlotte Robinson

Do you even *know* of any other type of argumentation beside knocking down "straw men" and throwing out juvenile "ad hominem"?!

God, please don't waste Salon readers' time with such fluffy drivel in the future. If you are going to critique something you disagree with at least have some intellectual integrity about it.

-- Roger Taylor

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