Today's News

Saturday, February 24, 1996

Bennett issues call to arms; return to virtue and family values

"We are going through a period in this country where federal government continues to grow bigger and stronger while states, communities and families are growing weaker," according to Friday's Presidential Guest Speaker William J. Bennett, former secretary of education and U.S. drug czar. "I don't think the federal government should be limited just because it's horribly expensive; it needs to be limited because it's horribly ineffective at addressing most of the important issues facing our society today."

Bennett, who holds a PhD in philosophy and a doctorate in law, began his political career as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, appointed by Ronald Reagan. "They needed someone with a degree in the humanities who voted for Ronald Reagan," Bennett said. "They conducted a nationwide search and found three of us."

He was then appointed secretary of education where he quickly gained a reputation as one of the president's most controversial and outspoken cabinet members. "I advocated some pretty radical beliefs, like homework and the teaching of basic values," he said.

Bennett moved into the position of drug czar under President Bush, where he brought the drug problem to the people, challenging communities and community leaders to take an active part in combating illegal drug use in their neighborhoods.

With the election of President Clinton, Bennett left government service. Daunted by the prospect of finding a "real job," he toured the country, teaching, lecturing and making public appearances. "As I traveled, it occurred to me that we are missing the basics," he said. "It seems that we have forgotten how to teach our children the fundamental issues of right and wrong." That realization inspired Bennett to write The Book of Virtues, a compilation of stories from around the world about morality, values and virtues.

"I took the idea to several publishers and was told that an 800-page book with no sex and no pictures would not sell," he said. Bennett finally persuaded Simon and Schuster to publish the book and now, 2.4 million copies later, Bennett has enjoyed a long stint on the New York Times Bestseller List and, of course, the monetary gains that accompany a runaway bestseller. "I have given so much money from the proceeds of this book to Catholic Charities that I have four get-out-of purgatory-free passes."

Bennett feels that the success of his book is reflective of a resurgence of spirituality and a return to family values in the United States. Bennett believes that the battle for the soul of the nation will be fought in three arenas, religion being the first. "I believe that this country is going through a fourth great awakening - an awakening of faith and the search for ultimate meaning," he said. "The yuppies are aging and, having tried everything else, they are turning to religion."

The cultural arena is where Bennett thinks much of the damage that is being done to the children of this country stems. "We have to fight the mass media for the education of our children," he said, adding that television, movies, music and magazines have a great influence over young people, and much of it does nothing more than validate and perpetuate dangerous ideas and stereotypes.

"We have so-called gangster rap music that promotes the murder and rape of women," he said. "And television talk shows that sensationalize the story of a fourteen-year-old girl, pregnant by her seventy-one year-old foster father. Cleaning up the mess in the mass media may be the most important fight we fight over the next decade."

With the presidential primaries in full swing, it is the battles taking place in the political arena that are dominating todays headlines. "As I see it, the fundamental task facing both parties is the dismantling of this behemoth welfare state that just doesn't work anymore," Bennett said. "We need to take whatever we can and give it back to the states, to cities, to schools, and to parents. We need to dismantle welfare, give money to the states and let communities start their own programs based on their specific needs."

Bennett predicts a "knock-down, drag-out presidential race" that will be won by the candidate who can best speak to voters about their concerns in these three arenas.

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Last modified 27/September/1996