|Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy|
March 13, 1989 – December 13, 1990
|President||George H. W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Bob Martinez|
|3rd United States Secretary of Education|
February 6, 1985 – September 20, 1988
|Preceded by||Terrel Bell|
|Succeeded by||Lauro Cavazos|
|Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities|
December 24, 1981 – February 6, 1985
|Preceded by||Joseph Duffey|
|Succeeded by||John Agresto (acting)|
William John Bennett
July 31, 1943
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Political party||Republican (1986–present)|
|Democratic (before 1986)|
|Relations||Robert S. Bennett (brother)|
|Education||Williams College (BA)|
University of Texas at Austin (MA, PhD)
Harvard University (JD)
William John Bennett (born July 31, 1943) is an American conservative politician and political commentator who served as secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. He also held the post of director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under George H. W. Bush.
Bennett was born July 31, 1943 to a Catholic family in Brooklyn, the son of Nancy (née Walsh), a medical secretary, and F. Robert Bennett, a banker. His family moved to Washington, D.C., where he attended Gonzaga College High School. He graduated from Williams College in 1965, where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Society, and received a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in political philosophy in 1970. He also has a J.D. from Harvard Law School, graduating in 1971.
Bennett was an associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Boston University from 1971 to 1972 and then became an assistant professor of philosophy and an assistant to John Silber, the president of the college, from 1972 to 1976. In May 1979, Bennett became the director of the National Humanities Center, a private research facility in North Carolina, after the death of its founder Charles Frankel.
In 1981 President Reagan appointed Bennett to chair the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), where he served until Reagan appointed him secretary of education in 1985. Reagan initially nominated Mel Bradford to the position, but due to Bradford's pro-Confederate views, Bennett was appointed. This event was later marked as the watershed in the divergence between paleoconservatives, who backed Bradford, and neoconservatives, led by Irving Kristol, who supported Bennett.
While at NEH, Bennett published "To Reclaim a Legacy: A Report on the Humanities in Higher Education", a 63-page report. It was based on an assessment of the teaching and learning of the humanities at the baccalaureate level, conducted by a blue-ribbon study group of 31 nationally prominent authorities on higher education convened by NEH.
In May 1986, Bennett switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party. In September 1988, Bennett resigned as secretary of education, to join the Washington law firm of Dunnels, Duvall, Bennett, and Porter. In March 1989, he returned to the federal government, becoming the first Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, appointed by President George H. W. Bush. He was confirmed by the Senate in a 97–2 vote. He left that position in December 1990.
In April 2004, Bennett began hosting Morning in America, a nationally syndicated radio program produced and distributed by Dallas, Texas-based Salem Communications. The show aired live weekdays from 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time, and was one of the only syndicated conservative talk shows in the morning drive time slot. However, its clearances were limited due to a preference for local shows in this slot, and the show got most of its clearances on Salem-owned outlets. Morning in America was also carried on Sirius Satellite Radio, on Channel 144, also known as the Patriot Channel. Bennett retired from full-time radio on March 31, 2016.
In 2008, Bennett became the host of a CNN weekly talk show, Beyond the Politics. The show did not have a long run, but Bennett remained a CNN contributor until he was fired in 2013 by then-new CNN president Jeff Zucker.
Bennett has been moderating The Wise Guys, a Sunday night show on Fox News, since January 2018. Carried on Fox Nation as well, participants include Tyrus, Byron York, Ari Fleischer, Victor Davis Hanson, and others.
Bennett writes for National Review Online, National Review and Commentary, and is a former senior editor of National Review.
Bennett is a member of the National Security Advisory Council of the Center for Security Policy (CSP). 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 and speaker.
Bennett was the Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute. He was also a commentator for CNN until 2013.
He is an advisor to Project Lead The Way and Beanstalk Innovation. He is on the advisory board of Udacity, Inc., Viridis Learning, Inc. and the board of directors of Vocefy, Inc. and Webtab, Inc.
In 2017, Bennett launched a podcast, The Bill Bennett Show.
According to internal White House records from January 6, 2021, Bennett spoke on the phone with then-President Donald Trump just before Trump went to the "Save America" rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol.
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 enforce drug laws better and supported a classical education. He frequently criticized schools for low standards. In 1987 he called the Chicago Public Schools system "the worst in the nation." He coined the term "the blob" to describe the state education bureaucracy, a term which was later taken up in Britain by Michael Gove.
Bennett is a staunch supporter of the War on Drugs and has been criticized by some for his views. On Larry King Live, he said that a viewer's suggestion of beheading drug dealers would be "morally plausible." He also "lamented that we still grant them [drug dealers] habeas corpus rights."
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, which urged Clinton to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.
Bennett is a neoconservative, and  was an advocate for the Iraq War.
In 2016, Bennett vigorously supported Donald Trump in his presidential campaign, writing that saying that conservatives who objected to Trump "suffer from a terrible case of moral superiority and put their own vanity and taste above the interest of the country" and that "our country can survive the occasional infelicities and improprieties of Donald Trump. But it cannot survive losing the Supreme Court to liberals."
In 2003, it became publicly known that Bennett - who had spent years preaching about family values and personal responsibility - was a high-stakes gambler who lost millions of dollars in Las Vegas. Criticism increased in the wake of Bennett's publication, The Book of Virtues, a compilation of moral stories about courage, responsibility, friendship and other examples of virtue. Joshua Green of the Washington Monthly said that Bennett failed to denounce gambling because of his own tendency to gamble. Also, Bennett and Empower America, the organization he co-founded and headed at the time, opposed an extension of casino gambling in the United States.
Bennett said that his habit had not jeopardized himself or his family financially. After Bennett's gambling problem became public, he said he did not believe his habit set a good example, that he had "done too much gambling" over the years, and his "gambling days are over". "We are financially solvent," his wife Elayne told 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, Bennett qualified his position, saying, "So, in this case, the excessive gambling is over." He explained, "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 Bennett's Morning in America radio show, a caller to the show proposed that "lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30 years" could preserve Social Security if abortion had not been permitted since Roe v. Wade. Bennett responded by hypothesizing, "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were the sole purpose—you could abort every black baby in this country and the crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."
Bennett responded to the criticism by saying, in part:
|Booknotes interview with Bennett on The Book of Virtues, January 9, 1994, C-SPAN|
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 eleven 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 1967, as a graduate student, Bennett went on a single blind date with Janis Joplin. He later lamented, "That date lasted two hours, and I've spent 200 hours talking about it."
Bennett married his wife, Mary Elayne Glover, in 1982. They have two sons, John and Joseph. Elayne is the president and founder of Best Friends Foundation, a national program promoting sexual abstinence among adolescents.
Bennett is the younger brother of Washington attorney Robert S. Bennett.