Bill Bennett's Finest Hour

He did it again.  Bill Bennett strode into Washington's Omni Shoreham hotel on Saturday and taught us all a lesson in American history and civics.  He drew the sharpest line between acceptable political opposition and ugly religious bigotry.

Bennett was a featured speaker at the Values Voter Summit.  And he invoked President Washington's famous Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport in rebuking a Christian minister who had tried to enlist support for his preferred candidate against another presidential hopeful who is Mormon.  The minister had the day before filled the itching ears of CNN listeners with his views on the LDS Church. 

Bennett quoted from Washington's 1790 Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport.  Washington had carefully prepared a reply to the Jews for his first presidential visit to Rhode Island.  He delivered it in person on August 17 to a delegation from Congregation Yeshuat Israel.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

This, as Prof. Harry Jaffa reminds us, was the first time in human history that any nation's ruler had addressed the Jews as equal fellow citizens.  We dishonor Washington's memory when we forget that.  This, more than anything else, is what has distinguished America and made us a beacon to the oppressed of many lands.

Bennett's looming presence, his stern and monitory tone, were a timely and necessary response to the minister's repugnant outburst.  We Christians have cried out, and rightly so, against the daily bigotry of the mass media, of the entertainment industry, and of some business and financial leaders.

We have protested that some politicians -- like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) -- have established a de facto religious test for office in violation of the spirit of the Constitution.  Schumer has made it his business to ferret out judicial nominees who are Christians with "deeply held convictions" whom he suspects may be unpersuaded by the lethal logic of Roe v. Wade.

We cannot expect the American people to hearken to our cries of injustice if we condone the same kind of religious bigotry.  But, as Bennett fairly noted, such blots are rare in social conservative circles.  That's why it's all the more important to mark them and reject them when they do occur.

This isn't the first time Bill Bennett has played this role.  I will never forget his sharp words at the Conservative Political Action Conference in early 1998.  It was just days after we were informed of Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.  Some of the vendors at CPAC were hawking lewd buttons, bumper stickers, and tee shirts.

Bill Bennett was having none of it.  "What's all this levity?" he demanded.  "Do you think this is funny?"  "This is a national tragedy," he thundered from the podium.  "Our children will be paying for this for years to come," he said of the inevitable coarsening of a country where fifth-graders cannot be shielded from what goes on in a Clinton White House.

Bennett's powerful presence that day ended all the raillery.  He was like an assistant principal who comes in to read the riot act to a study hall of rampant freshman boys.  CPAC attendees greeted him with appreciative applause as the better angels of our nature arose once more.

I was never prouder to call Bill Bennett my friend than now.  It's easy enough to call out the liberals.  And Bennett did that with wit and skill.  But it's much harder to call your own house to order.  That's what Bennett did on Saturday.  It was his finest hour.

Bob Morrison served under Bill Bennett in the Reagan Administration and worked with him on his history books.

He did it again.  Bill Bennett strode into Washington's Omni Shoreham hotel on Saturday and taught us all a lesson in American history and civics.  He drew the sharpest line between acceptable political opposition and ugly religious bigotry.

Bennett was a featured speaker at the Values Voter Summit.  And he invoked President Washington's famous Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport in rebuking a Christian minister who had tried to enlist support for his preferred candidate against another presidential hopeful who is Mormon.  The minister had the day before filled the itching ears of CNN listeners with his views on the LDS Church. 

Bennett quoted from Washington's 1790 Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport.  Washington had carefully prepared a reply to the Jews for his first presidential visit to Rhode Island.  He delivered it in person on August 17 to a delegation from Congregation Yeshuat Israel.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

This, as Prof. Harry Jaffa reminds us, was the first time in human history that any nation's ruler had addressed the Jews as equal fellow citizens.  We dishonor Washington's memory when we forget that.  This, more than anything else, is what has distinguished America and made us a beacon to the oppressed of many lands.

Bennett's looming presence, his stern and monitory tone, were a timely and necessary response to the minister's repugnant outburst.  We Christians have cried out, and rightly so, against the daily bigotry of the mass media, of the entertainment industry, and of some business and financial leaders.

We have protested that some politicians -- like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) -- have established a de facto religious test for office in violation of the spirit of the Constitution.  Schumer has made it his business to ferret out judicial nominees who are Christians with "deeply held convictions" whom he suspects may be unpersuaded by the lethal logic of Roe v. Wade.

We cannot expect the American people to hearken to our cries of injustice if we condone the same kind of religious bigotry.  But, as Bennett fairly noted, such blots are rare in social conservative circles.  That's why it's all the more important to mark them and reject them when they do occur.

This isn't the first time Bill Bennett has played this role.  I will never forget his sharp words at the Conservative Political Action Conference in early 1998.  It was just days after we were informed of Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.  Some of the vendors at CPAC were hawking lewd buttons, bumper stickers, and tee shirts.

Bill Bennett was having none of it.  "What's all this levity?" he demanded.  "Do you think this is funny?"  "This is a national tragedy," he thundered from the podium.  "Our children will be paying for this for years to come," he said of the inevitable coarsening of a country where fifth-graders cannot be shielded from what goes on in a Clinton White House.

Bennett's powerful presence that day ended all the raillery.  He was like an assistant principal who comes in to read the riot act to a study hall of rampant freshman boys.  CPAC attendees greeted him with appreciative applause as the better angels of our nature arose once more.

I was never prouder to call Bill Bennett my friend than now.  It's easy enough to call out the liberals.  And Bennett did that with wit and skill.  But it's much harder to call your own house to order.  That's what Bennett did on Saturday.  It was his finest hour.

Bob Morrison served under Bill Bennett in the Reagan Administration and worked with him on his history books.