Friday, September 30, 2005

Hang Down Your Head, Bill Bennett

Former education secretary and drug czar William "Moral Compass" Bennett long ago joined my list of "formerly relevant Republicans who should now be ignored as complete crackpots" (he's in good company there with Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and a few others). But some comments this week do prompt a brief mention.

On his syndicated radio talk show Wednesday, Bennett was responding to a caller who asked if the legalization of abortion was partly to blame for eventual Social Security crisis (because there are less workers paying into the system, apparently). Bennett said "maybe," according to the Washington Post, and then mentioned a book which argues that abortions have contributed to lower crime rates in recent decades. "Bennett said he did not agree with that thesis," the Post notes. But he went on to say (and this is the part that's getting him into trouble):

"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."

Since I don't want to leave the impression that was the end of Bennett's comments I'll add his next sentence, which was:

"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, you know, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."

His argument now is that he was making a counter-analogy to the caller's line about Social Security, and that the first section I quoted is being taken out of context. I want to be perfectly clear: there is no context in which that kind of statement is appropriate. Even if Bennett does not believe that such a despicable and disgusting policy should be carried out, he clearly does believe that it would be an effective policy, or else he wouldn't have said it at all.

Bennett's comments are indefensible. Sure, he has every right to say them - that's what we've got a First Amendment for in this country. But now that the words, vile as they are, have left his mouth, we all have every right in return to stand up and say hey, that kind of bigoted and hurtful rhetoric isn't productive.

If you want to talk about reducing crime, how about making investments in schools and college educations? How about investing in our youth, not aborting them or abandoning them into an underfunded school system? How about putting more cops on the streets? How about making sure all Americans, no matter what color they are, have something to look forward to, something to hope and dream for? Those things will reduce crime. Sure they're tough issues, not easily solved. But c'mon, let's talk about them. Bennett's stupid and insensitive remarks just keep the dialogue in the gutter where it does nobody any good and just makes angry people even more angry. There's got to be a better way.

Barack Obama last summer at the DNC called what I feel "the audacity of hope." "In the end," he went on, "that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead. I believe we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair. I believe that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us."

Given the choice, I'll take Obama's hope over Bill Bennett's hatred any day of the week.


At 9:04 AM, Blogger Phil S said...

Bennett will rue the day he ever let those words out of his mouth-he will forever be linked to those who are everyday blatantly racist. He could send all his gambling money to the NAACP, and never undo what he has done. Jeremy, you framed your post well-making it clear how hurtful this rhetoric is.
And how absolutely indefensible!

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Jerry said...

Well, I blasted the Dems yesterday, so I guess today is the day for me to blast Repubs. :)

This blog is proof that there are at least a few reasonable, thoughtful people who identify as Republicans, even if they are RINOs. But why does the GOP tolerate people like Bennett and Robertson hanging on their periphery? I mean, Bennett was cabinet level for a while. You can't tell me that Reagan didn't, at least once, get into a discussion of race with him. He's been a prominent Repub. talking head for a while. This guy is well-known.

A statement like this doesn't just come out of nowhere. He didn't wake up Wednesday morning and, while eating his Wheaties, arrive at the conclusion that we'd be safer if we exterminated African-Americans. There's an underlying racism that had to have exhibited itself in other ways.

So I ask yinz, as conscientious red-staters -- why do you think the party leadership does not completely and unequivocally disavow these dudes?

At 11:06 AM, Blogger J. James Mooney said...

Okay, first off let me say I am in no way defending racism. Prejudice against a person for any reason is deplorable, nothing less.

However, the argument Bennett was referring to was that of Steven Levitt of the new popular book Freakonomics where the drop in crime rate is linked to the legalization to abortion. Levitt makes a very convincing case.

No one should be so naive as to think that the removal of 25 million lives from the US would not have a social ramification. (To give credence to my argument, I'll point out at this point in time I am pro-choice)

That being said lets look at the stats, 1 in 3 African American men will go through the US penal system. Whether or not this number is inflated due to racism or not is irrelevant in this case because Bennett was referring to the crime rate, a calculate number based on convictions, not real crime.

The argument is this, if the crime rate in any subdemographic is hiring than the overall crime rate removing that demographic from the population would in fact reduce the overall crime rate.

This isn't a policy move, it's simply how it is. No one in their right mind would say abortion is the okay because it serves as a way to reduce crime, but the possibility that it reduces crime still exists.

Bennett, Robertson, etc have said crazy things in the past, I'm not sure if this one is so crazy. You can paint me as a racist if you like but I'm not sure if that will further the debate.

At 11:20 AM, Blogger Phil S said...

Mr. Mooney, so by your logic we should all accept Orwell's 1984 concept??? Please!!

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Jerry said...

James -- I think Levitt made a good case, even if I'm not completely convinced that it's true. But IIRC, nowhere in that argument did he mention race (please correct me if I'm wrong).

The thing that bothers me about Bennett's statement has nothing to do with whether it is factual or not; what bothers me is, why did this solution even occur to him? What thought processes are going on in his head that cause him to even proffer this as a possibility?

I'm sorry to trot out the tired old Nazi analogy, and I'm not trying to trap you, but it sounds like your logic could be used to defend Nazism:
All they're saying is that if they got rid of all the Jews and gypsies, they'd have more of Germany to themselves, which is true. So it's not such a crazy idea.

The fact that a statement is factually correct does not mean that it cannot also be morally reprehensible.

At 12:08 PM, Blogger cakreiz said...

I think we can all agree that it's probably not a bright idea to make an abstract point by positing, "suppose we abort an entire group of people...." That being said, we have to find some way of discussing race-related issues without the specter of being called a racist or nazi. James says above, "1 in 3 African American men will go through the US penal system." We've all heard that "2 out of every 3 black babies are born out of wedlock". But a person better be careful about saying anything more because the R word looms large.

If the above statements are true (I assume that they are), they are staggering public policy statistics. We need to fashion a way of discussing such facts candidly. I don't know if that's possible in today's climate- and that's troubling.

At 1:36 PM, Blogger J. James Mooney said...

I would first like to respond to the Nazi analogy of Jerry.

The fact that a statement is factually correct does not mean that it cannot also be morally reprehensible.

The only thing to say here is 'duh'. There is no question that it [public policy, based on this linkage] is morally reprehensible true or not.

I'm not sure that from Bennett's statement I can infer that he was suggesting policy or just theorizing about causation. Clearly anyone advocating this policy is sick, as I said when I wrote

This isn't a policy move, it's simply how it is. No one in their right mind would say abortion is the okay because it serves as a way to reduce crime, but the possibility that it reduces crime still exists.


But IIRC, nowhere in that argument did he mention race (please correct me if I'm wrong).

No he didn't touch race, but he did touch poverty. Jesse Jackson seems to see a link, maybe he's right.

Lastly I'll address Mr. Phil (sorry I don't know your last name),

Mr. Mooney, so by your logic we should all accept Orwell's 1984 concept??? Please!!

I have no idea what you are talking about although I have read the book. I wasn't suggesting public policy but rather attesting to the validity of Bennett's claim.

I see I wasn't painted as a racist, but rather a fascist. Interesting I didn't see that coming.

At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Bennett wanted to make the point he made, (essentially an ad absurdum point) he should have used a demographic group that went with that absurdist angle: for example, southern states have higher crime rates than other states, but you didn't see Bennett making reference to aborting all southerners, or, for that matter, men (who obviously have far higher criminality rates).

Instead, Bennett decided to use a politically charged group to make his point, and therefore knew exactly what he was getting into. He deliberately used blacks rather than making a better ad absurdum argument because he knew it was a politically charged issue and thought it would resonate with his listeners.

He knew he was getting into and his statement is therefore inappropriate. I understand that he wasn't advocating extermination as a social policy, but what he was doing was not much better. For shame.


At 1:47 PM, Blogger J. James Mooney said...


I utterly disagree, I'm not sure what his motives were (and I don't really care), but the result was us talking about a linkage to race and crime. That linkage is a problem and I can only hope discussions like these will bring about viable solutions.

For that matter we should also be discussing why men commit more crimes than women, and why southerns do as well.

PS hadn't heard that stat about southerns, you wouldn't happen to have a stat would you?

At 2:06 PM, Blogger J. James Mooney said...

Levitt actually weighed in on the issue on his blog here.

I recommend it, he's also good for a read.

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Jerry said...

James, thanks for not taking my nazi comment too personally ... I knew I was coming close to being a d**k, but I thought the analogy was important. Don't want this to become like some other blogs, where name-calling is prized above discussion... ;)

I, too, am glad we are talking about race and crime -- I think there's a lot to talk about there, and it's something that should be met head-on.

It just bothers me that we're discussing it under a thread where someone has suggested that the crime rate could be reduced by killing blacks at or before birth. Again, whether he was suggesting or advocating policy, as opposed to just theorizing, is not, in my view, germane.

The burr on my ass is this: Where did he get this idea? Why did he use that as an example? I think Hugo got it right -- he knew he was using a politically charged example.

Re: cakreiz's point, maybe ground rule number one for discussions about race should be that we never mention the two most divisive issues in America (abortion and race) in one sentence. That seems to me like a good place to start, don't you think? :)

At 4:10 PM, Blogger Jerry said...

Hmm, just read Levitt's post. I found this quote challenging:

7) There is one thing I would take Bennett to task for: first saying that he doesn't believe our abortion-crime hypothesis but then revealing that he does believe it with his comments about black babies. You can't have it both ways.

Good point.


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