This Just In: Bill Bennett's Got A New Book!
The Book of Vices:
A Wicked Celebration of the Right
William J. Bennett
As a result of unfortunate comments about the crime rate among blacks on his recent radio show, Mr. Bennett -- former Secretary of Education and "Drug Czar" -- was relieved of his Directorship in K12 USA, a home school curriculum company which binds its Directors to a strict code of conduct.
Freed from his moral confines, Mr. Bennett has authored what he calls his "dream project of a lifetime" and his enthusiasm toward his subject matter is evident in the zeal and creativity shown throughout the book.
Modeled on his bestselling The Book of Virtues -- a collection of stories and poems illustrating the values romanticized by the Reagan era -- Bennett shifts to non-fiction, drawing on the real-life experiences of his fellow conservatives.
St. Thomas Aquinas said Pride is the beginning of sin and that's just where Bennett starts, displaying a copy of former FEMA Director Michael Brown's resume alongside his comments before a House committee punctuated by the declaration, "I get it." Bennett adds his own personal retrospective on New Orleans entitled "Back When Dys'fun'ctional Was Fun."
Bennett's own experience informs the section on Avarice and Greed in his "Ode to a Craps Table" followed by the inspiring middle-class-to-stinking-riches tale of Dick Cheney in "Pimpin' for Halliburton," composed entirely in blank verse. Senator Bill Frist's hilarious denial of any knowledge regarding his blind trust is a brilliant punch line to the chapter.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the book comes in Condoleeza Rice's lyrical study of Envy through three scenes: at the Chanel salon in Paris ("I told them I wasn't leaving until I got that same gown in blue"); a press conference where she takes more questions than Colin Powell and "feels the sting of his egotistical wrath"; and at Ferragamo in New York where she withstood the attack of a "crazy-ass white woman" who scolded her for not attending to the crisis in the Gulf Coast. "Her jealousy was palpable," Rice recalls.
Unfortunately, the book's pace slows in Wrath, mostly because of Donald Rumsfeld's weak attempt at creating a "rap" in response to a hostile press corps. Not only is it uninspired but, at fifteen pages, it seems endless. If the effect he seeks is a continuous drubbing, he succeeds, especially with his awkward rhythms: "You know you're wrong now/ So can't you see how/ You make things so bad in Badghdad/ They wanna shoot ya' in Fallujah." An excerpt from Tom DeLay's upcoming penned-in-prison memoir, "I Had a Hammer" is a sort of Sherman's March through his days in Washington, D.C and unfortunately, the underlying self-pity ruins the fun for the rest of us.
The rest of the book picks up with Lust as Congressman Bob Livingston dishes about his horny days in the House in a short but gossip-filled piece entitled "Between a Lobbyist's Legs" and Newt Gingrich (who knew he was a songwriter?) contributes the lyrics to a country song he wrote to seduce his third wife, "You Put the Whore in Horticulture."
Gluttony is also great fun: Bennett pays tribute to dozens of quirky Vegas buffets and a hilarious collage of Rush Limbaugh's forged Oxycontin prescriptions features Doctor's names like "J. Bird" and "Juan Moore."
The finale of the book is a fitting and timely one. Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan uses her heightened language to show how George W. Bush is the embodiment of Sloth in her essay "A Whole Lotta Nothin'." W's efforts at prep school and Yale, in failed oil ventures, with subsidized baseball fields, and his posturing as President reflect the least amount of work possible -- a perfect fit with Bennett and his cronies' disdain for government.
Noonan's paean includes Bush's neglect of the Gulf Coast ("Set safely inside the plane's belly, he reviewed his watery kingdom from his rounded glassy perch. Then he turned away, safe and warm, satisfied that "Brownie was doing a heck of a job"). Dante divided the seven vices into three categories including perverted love and excessive love of earthly goods. Bush's Sloth, however fits neatly into the third category: insufficient love, especially for his country.
Bennett brilliantly and delightfully shows what the Republicans have known for so long: the Vices are waaaaay more fun than the Virtues. Amen.