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William John Bennett (born July 31, 1943) is an American conservative pundit, politician, and political theorist, 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.
Early life and education
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 originally nominated Mel Bradford to the position, but due to Bradford's pro-Confederate views Bennett was appointed in his place. 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.
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.