William John Bennett
William John Bennett (born July 3, 1943) served as Secretary of Education from 1985 to 1988. He was also the first person to occupy the post of "drug czar". He is currently co-director of Empower America and EMPOWER.org. He was formerly Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan and Director of National Drug Control Policy under George Herbert Walker Bush.
Bennett is senior advisor and founder of Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, serves on the advisory council of Center for Security Policy (CSP), is the Washington Fellow for the Claremont Institute, and a distinguished fellow in cultural policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.
Bennett was born in Brooklyn, New York. After moving to Washington, DC, he attended Gonzaga College High School. He graduated from Williams College, and went on to get a PhD from the University of Texas in Political Philosophy. He also has a law degree from Harvard Law School.
From 1976 to 1981, he was the executive director of the National Humanities Center, a private research facility in North Carolina. In 1981, President Reagan appointed him to head the National Endowment for the Humanities. He served here until Reagan nominated him, in 1985, to be the Secretary of Education.
He was a controversial Secretary of Education. He articulated the conservative position on affirmative action, school vouchers, curriculum reform, and religion in education. He asked colleges to enforce drug laws. He supported a classical education rooted in Western culture and derided multicultural courses. He frequently criticized schools for low standards. He resigned this position in 1988, in the final days of the Reagan Administration.
Long active in Republican Party politics, he is now a conservative author and speaker. He was frequently quoted throughout the 1990's for his books and opinion pieces. In these writings, he denounced a perceived lack of virtue in American society, particularly among young people.
In 2003, it became widely known that he was a high-stakes gambler who had lost millions of dollars in Las Vegas. This conflicted with his public image as a leading voice for conservative morals.
After Bennett's gambling habit became public knowledge, and after he admitted having lost as much as $8,000,000 within a one-year period, he claimed he was never addicted to gambling and compared his gambling to responsible drinking. Bennett did, however, say that he does not believe that his habit sets a good example and he now claims to have quit gambling for good.
Bennett's best-known work may be The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories, which he edited; he has also authored and edited ten other books including, The Children’s Book of Virtues, and The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals.
Bennett is a staunch supporter of the "War on Drugs" and has been criticized for his extreme views on the issue. On a radio show, he said that a listener's suggestion to behead drug dealers would be 'morally plausible'. Which given the drug foibles and abuse of one of the right-wing's most prominent spokesperson, Rush Limbaugh, certiany make a strange contrast.
While a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Texas, Bennett, then a rock fan, was set up on a blind date with Janis Joplin, who was then at the height of her singing career. According to People magazine, the date "must surely rank as one of the least likely blind dates of all time." In later life, Bennett would condemn rock fans as immoral. When asked what he and Janis did on their date, Bennett said, "Hey, that really is none of your business."
He and his wife, Elayne have two sons, John and Joseph.
- 11 March 2001: "Milwaukee Genesis. Where George W. Bush's 'Faith-Based' initiative really comes from" by Phil Wilayto, Media Transparency.
- June 2003: "The Bookie of Virtue" by Joshua Green, Washington Monthly.
- May 7, 2003:Las Vegas Review-Journal by John Smith - "Bennett's Bottom Line on Gambling Out of Balance in More Than One Way"