Dr. William John Bennett (born July 31, 1943) is an American conservative pundit and politician. He served as United States Secretary of Education from 1985 to 1988. He also held the post of Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (or "Drug Czar") under George H. W. Bush.
Bennett was born in Brooklyn but later moved to Washington, D.C., where he attended Gonzaga College High School. He graduated from Williams College and went on to get a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin 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 Ronald Reagan appointed him to head the National Endowment for the Humanities, where he served until Reagan appointed him Secretary of Education in 1985. Bennett resigned from this post in 1988 and, later that year, was appointed to the post of Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy by President Bush. He was confirmed by the Senate in a 97-2 vote.
He was co-director of Empower America and was a Distinguished Fellow in Cultural Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation. Long active in United States Republican Party politics, he is now an author, speaker, and, since April 5, 2004, the host of the weekday radio program Morning in America on the Dallas, Texas-based Salem Communications. NewsMax.com Magazine's "Top 25 Talk Radio Host" list selected Bennett as the fourteenth most influential host in the nation. In addition to his radio show, he is the Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute.
Dr. Bennett and his wife, Elayne, have two sons, John and Joseph. His wife Elayne is the President and Founder of Best Friends Foundation, a nationwide abstinence-based program for adolescents. He is the brother of prominent Washington attorney Robert S. Bennett.
Dr. Bennett tends to take a conservative position on affirmative action, school vouchers, curriculum reform, and religion in education. As Education Secretary, he asked colleges to better enforce drug laws, supported a classical education rooted in Western culture, and derided multicultural courses. He frequently criticized schools for low standards. In fact, in 1988, he called the Chicago public school system "the worst in the nation."
Dr. Bennett has tangled with the educational establishment (which he dubbed "the blob" or bloated educational bureaucracy) over the following reform measures, which he espoused:
Dr. Bennett is a staunch supporter of the War on Drugs and has been criticized for his views on the issue. On a television show, he said that a viewer's suggestion of beheading drug dealers would be 'morally plausible'.
Dr. Bennett opposes redefining traditional marriage to include same-sex couples.
In 1995, he teamed up with C. Delores Tucker to create advertising to target Time Warner's lack of regulation of gangsta rap and its glorification of violence and denigration of women. Bennett is a member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and was one of the signers of the January 26, 1998 PNAC Letter sent to President Bill Clinton urging Clinton to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.
Dr. Bennett's best-known written work may be The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (1993), which he edited; he has also authored and edited ten other books, including The Children’s Book of Virtues (which inspired an animated television series) and The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals (1998).
In Spring 2003, it became widely known that Dr. Bennett was a high-stakes gambler who reportedly had lost millions of dollars in Las Vegas. As a Catholic, Dr. Bennett was not prohibited from gambling, but some felt it conflicted with his public image as a leading voice for conservative morals. For example, Dr. Bennett and Empower America, the organization he co-founded and headed at the time, opposed the extension of casino gambling in the states.
Dr. Bennett was never accused of nor admitted to having a "problem" with gambling and has maintained that his habit did not put himself or his family in any financial jeopardy.
After Dr. Bennett's gambling became public, he said that he did not believe that his habit set a good example, that he had "done too much gambling" over the years, and that his "gambling days are over. "We are financially solvent," his wife Elayne told the USA Today. "All our bills are paid." She added that his gambling days are over. "He's never going again," she said.
Several months later, Dr. Bennett qualified his position, saying "So, in this case, the excessive gambling is over." He explained that "Since there will be people doing the micrometer on me, I just want to be clear: I do want to be able to bet the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl."
On September 28, 2005, in a discussion on Dr. Bennett's Morning in America radio show, Dr. Bennett made remarks that have since touched off a debate about race, crime and abortion. A caller to the show proposed the idea that the Social Security system might be solvent today if abortion hadn't been permitted following the Roe v. Wade decision. The following is a transcript of the conversation:
Subsequently, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as civil rights groups, condemned Dr. Bennett's statements and demanded an apology. President George W. Bush called Bennett's statements "not appropriate" in a statement read by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
Dr. Bennett has responded to the criticism, later issuing a statement to clarify his position. He said, in part:
|Preceded by |
|United States Secretary of Education |
|Succeeded by |
|Preceded by |
|Director of the National Drug Control Policy |
|Succeeded by |