Buffalo BEAST - Buffalo's New Best Fiend

Oct 5 - Oct 19, 2005
Issue #85

  ..Buffalo's Best Fiend
Bursting the Bennett Bubble
Count me out on this one
Allan Uthman

Post-Katrina, Pre-kaboom?
The Nukes are Loose
Russ Wellen

Tenet & the Bare Necessities
Touch the CIA Director
A Monkey
Fristing America
In Search of the Senator's Rolex
Ian Murphy
Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Gasoline
Kit Smith
Bush Declares War on Hurricanes
"It's time to fight back"
Luke Allein
Ask a Janjaweed Militiaman
Genocidal social advice
How to Wipe Your Ass With Buffalo Current
New paper finds its niche

Visitor's Gude to  Buffalo--Cheektowaga
Tom Maccio

Buffalo in Briefs
Wide Right
Bills Football
Ronnie Roscoe
Kino Korner: Movies
Michael Gildea
Page 3
Separated at Birth?
[sic] - Letters
 Cover Page

Idiot Box
Perry Bible Fellowship
Bob the Angry Flower

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Last Issue: (84)

Bursting the Bennett Bubble
Count me out on this one
Allan Uthman

  CALLER: I noticed the national media, you know, they talk a lot about the loss of revenue, or the inability of the government to fund Social Security, and I was curious, and I've read articles in recent months here, that the abortions that have happened since Roe v. Wade, the lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30-something years, could fund Social Security as we know it today. And the media just doesn't – never touches this at all.
  BENNETT: Assuming they're all productive citizens?
  CALLER: Assuming that they are. Even if only a portion of them were, it would be an enormous amount of revenue.
  BENNETT: Maybe, maybe, but we don't know what the costs would be, too. I think as – abortion disproportionately occur among single women? No.
  CALLER: I don't know the exact statistics, but quite a bit are, yeah.
  BENNETT: All right, well, I mean, I just don't know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don't know. I mean, it cuts both – you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well –
  CALLER: Well, I don't think that statistic is accurate.
  BENNETT: Well, I don't think it is either, I don't think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don't know. But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could – if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.

That’s what Bill Bennett said. Not “I think we should abort black babies,” Or “all black people are criminals,” or even “I don’t like black people.” Bennett posed a hypothetical example – certainly not a polite one, but certainly not a suggestion of a course of action either.

I’ve seen some ugly, deliberately disingenuous feeding frenzies before, but this Bill Bennett thing is out of control. It reminds me of nothing more than the conservative gangbangs on Democrats like Dick Durbin (for comparing Gitmo to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime – Pol Pot”) or Howard Dean (for calling the GOP “pretty much a white, Christian party”). You know, the conservatives are really good at this sort of thing – they invented McCarthyism, after all – but the liberals seem to be catching on.

Occasionally over the last year or so, I’ve taken to advocating a “fight stupid with stupid” strategy for Democrats – dumb the message down to Republican levels, lie, distort, rig, accuse – anything to win; on the theory that you can’t fight fair against cheaters when the ref is passed out in the bathroom. But this massive PR assault on William Bennett for saying something rude, an intense campaign to put much darker words in his mouth, feels like a test run of that strategy, and it makes me regret ever pushing it. It just feels all wrong. What I’ve realized is that if Democrats start sounding just as ignorant and shrill in their moral condemnations as Republicans, I lose my main reason to prefer them.

Not many else on the left seem to share my qualms. Condemnations and apology demands have issued forth from the NAACP, People for the American Way, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, John Conyers, Barak Obama and, ironically, Howard Dean. Even White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan got in on the action. And the bloggers are in full mania, just getting off on their ability to make a story happen through the sheer volume of their invective.

As a result, Bennett has stepped down from his position as Chairman the board of K12, an “educational company” in the spirit of his Republican voucher-driven educational vision. He just cancelled a speech at the University of Cincinnati. He’s in a world of shit, and every time he goes on TV to defend himself he only prolongs the story. But I still can’t figure out what he said to merit this response.

As far as I can see, the only valid criticism of Bennett’s statement that withstands dispassionate scrutiny is this: Bennett said first that he did not think that the argument – from Freakonomics – that crime is down because abortion is up is accurate, agreeing with his caller, “because first of all, there is just too much that you don’t know.” But he follows that by saying “I do know” that crime would go down if black abortions went up. This is inconsistent. It was pointed out by Freakonomics’ author Steven Levitt on his own blog as “the one thing” he would take Bennett to task for. Possible explanations for this inconsistency include that Bennett was just being obsequious to the caller, or he is categorically opposed to any argument bolstering the usefulness of abortion, being staunchly pro-life. Still, the two statements, one immediately following the other, do not cohere.

But who’s willing to claim that this is the cause for the current uproar? “Hey – Bill Bennett made an inconsistent argument! Let’s get him!” Every day we hear flatly illogical arguments from right wing commentators, but they don’t usually require comment from the White House. The basis of the present outpouring of righteous outrage against Bennett is the claim that this comment is racist, not illogical, and I still don’t think it is.

It’s not a pleasant sensation to be agreeing with Bill Kristol or Sean Hannity about anything, but I just don’t see what the fuss is all about, and I think everyone should come back to earth on this one. Here are some of the arguments I’ve encountered at – well, everywhere, along with my reactions to them:

1. “He could have said, abort all Asian babies, or all white babies, or ALL babies…”

Not true. Obviously, the less people there are, the less crimes are committed, but this wouldn’t bring down the percentage of crimes, or crimes per capita – the crime rate. Obviously, it was this kind of change – controlled for number of people – Bennett was talking about. He could have said “abort all male babies,” or “abort all babies born into poverty.” These would also result – hypothetically – in a crime rate reduction, and presumably no one would be talking about Bill Bennett this week if he had done so.

2. “Saying ‘I do know’ means this wasn’t a hypothetical.”

Not true. Just because Bennett is sure that aborting all black babies would reduce crime doesn’t mean he thinks it should happen. Presumably, since he is against abortion, he thinks it shouldn’t.

3. “His mind went straight from ‘crime’ to ‘blacks.’ This proves he’s a racist.”

This is probably the most prevalent charge against Bennett: he associated crime with blackness, therefore he is a racist. But I can think of another, better reason why Bennett would choose to invoke such a horrid concept as genocide in this discussion. It’s called ‘reductio ad absurdum’:

Reductio ad absurdum (Latin for “reduction to the absurd”, traceable back to the Greek η εις άτοπον απαγωγη, “reduction to the impossible”, often used by Aristotle) is a type of logical argument where we assume a claim for the sake of argument, arrive at an absurd result, and then conclude the original assumption must have been wrong, since it gave us this absurd result.

In other words, to illustrate why he is against any argument for or against abortion based on extrapolating its possible societal impact(s) on our future, Bennett conjured the ugliest possible ramification of such an argument he could muster – the forced extermination of black babies. He is attempting to show where he thinks such logic leads, and therefore why it must be resisted. In other words, he posed this hypothetical exactly because it is a vile and morally outrageous suggestion. This doesn’t make Bennett a racist, not by a long shot. In fact it only shows that he understands what an inappropriate suggestion it is.

There’s been a lot of over-the-top commentary on this, from typical hyperbole like “this is the most racist statement I’ve ever heard” to a recent statement from Buffalo’s own Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples:

I am calling upon the Federal Communications Commission to remove Bennett’s nationally syndicated radio show from the air due to its offensive content. I continue to be offended by the way African-Americans are spoken about and treated in this country. Italian-Americans are not spoken about or treated in this way. Polish-Americans aren’t talked about or treated in such a reprehensible way. People continue to talk as if African-Americans don’t belong in this country. We are here. We do belong. No one can change those facts.

Of course, no one is suggesting otherwise. And frankly, it’s irresponsible to suggest setting a precedent that the FCC should not only censor, but permanently ban shows that host unpopular speech, misinterpreted or not (because you just know Amy Goodman’s next). But the tone here illustrates how angry people really are about this, and perhaps how insecure.

Peoples adds that “the crime statistics show that not all crime is committed by African-Americans.” Of course, no one has suggested anything to the contrary – certainly not Bennett. But, according to the Department of Justice, the stats do show that African-Americans are six times more likely to commit crime than average. If you think that’s all due to a racist justice system, explain how that would lead to blacks being seven times more likely to become crime victims. Let’s not pretend that Bennett’s association of race and crime is completely out of nowhere; that would be as intellectually dishonest as saying “abstinence works.”

The black community is riddled with crime. It is a grave consequence of America’s shameful history of oppression and neglect, leading forcibly imported blacks all the way from slavery to poverty in four centuries. Given this history, it would in fact be mind-boggling if there weren’t any negative sociological effects. In other words, you don’t have to be racist to acknowledge the anomalistically high crime rate among African-Americans. But it is referring to that uncomfortable fact – blacks commit more crime than average in America – that really has Bennett in such trouble, and nothing else.

When Trent Lott said that we’d all "probably be better off" if we had listened to hardcore segregationist Strom Thurmond, it irreparably damaged his career, and rightfully so, because it clearly exposed him as a racist. Bennett’s comments do not, much in the same way that Howard Dean’s famous “scream” did not expose him to be an unstable loon. The thought was simply drilled into mass consciousness through incessant repetition, just as “Bennett wants to abort black babies” is currently being incessantly reiterated despite a total lack of basis in reality. Maybe it will “work,” and Bennett will be ritually decommissioned as an acceptable source of political blather.

But what will liberals have won? An insignificant trophy: Bennett’s flabby, frowning head mounted on a plaque, at great expense to their credibility as serious thinkers, adding weight to the dogmatic right wing characterization of them as hysterical bleeding hearts unwilling to face reality. Ultimately this pointless dogpile serves only to alienate potential future Democrats and reassure conservatives in their prejudices, because it just doesn’t make rational sense. There’s a lot of excellent targets for serious outrage out there – why waste it on a dubious case involving an unimportant has-been?

I don’t for a minute think there is anything intrinsic to any race that would predispose it to criminal behavior. It’s clear from the data available that poverty is the primary impetus to crime, and that the reason for this racial discrepancy in crime rates is the immense disparity of wealth between the races in America. Obviously, the best way to alleviate crime would be to find effective ways to alleviate poverty.

I don’t really give a damn about Bill Bennett; at best, the guy is a run of the mill sanctimonious hypocrite and a total failure as a public servant. But my point is this: we must be reasonable, if only to separate ourselves from jerks like Bennett. Nobody is ever going to fix a problem if everybody’s too scared to even mention it. If someone can be taken down for simply posing a hypothetical that refers to the link between race and crime, who is ever going to do anything about it? How are we ever going to address these unpleasant realities about crime, poverty and race in our society if we can’t even talk about them like grown-ups?

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