the Bennett Bubble
me out on this one
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“He could have said, abort all Asian babies, or all white
babies, or ALL babies…”
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.
“Saying ‘I do know’ means this wasn’t a hypothetical.”
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.
“His mind went straight from ‘crime’ to ‘blacks.’ This proves
he’s a racist.”
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’:
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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?
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.
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?