Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bill Bennett Doesn't Get It

On the September 28 edition of his radio show, Morning In America, Bill Bennett, former Republican Education Secretary, inveterate gambler and supposed expert on virtue, offered some quite controversial thoughts in response to the following statement by a caller (Media Matters provides transcript):

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.

Okaaay. Well, in response, Bennett started out rationally enough:

BENNETT: Assuming they're all productive citizens?...Maybe, but we don't know what the costs would be, too. I think as -- abortion disproportionately occurs among single women? I just don't know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don't know.

But then he veered into a strange place:

BENNETT: 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.

Umm, who said anything about black babies, Mr. Bennett? Freakonomics author Steven Levitt doesn't believe there's a statistical correlation between race and crime. As he tells us on his blog:

Race is not an important part of the abortion-crime argument that John Donohue and I have made in academic papers and that Dubner and I discuss in Freakonomics. It is true that, on average, crime involvement in the U.S. is higher among blacks than whites. Importantly, however, once you control for income, the likelihood of growing up in a female-headed household, having a teenage mother, and how urban the environment is, the importance of race disappears for all crimes except homicide. (The homicide gap is partly explained by crack markets). In other words, for most crimes a white person and a black person who grow up next door to each other with similar incomes and the same family structure would be predicted to have the same crime involvement.
And so consequently, on some level, Bennett is right, since would also be true that if we aborted every white, Asian, male, Republican, and Democratic baby in that world, crime would also fall.
Levitt does seem to try to let Bennett off the hook a bit by asking us to remember that "this took place on an unscripted radio show in response to a caller's question. It was clearly off-the-cuff." Well, it seems to me that this only reinforces the notion that what he expressed does indeed reflect what Bennett truly believes -- that being black and being a criminal are in some way synonymous. And the expression of this hateful notion is what is so disturbing about his comments; but instead, his self-defense that came the next day on, where else, Hannity And Colmes, centered on re-assuring us that he truly doesn't believe black babies SHOULD be aborted.

I said, however, if you were to practice that, widespread abortion in the black community or any other community, it would be ridiculous, impossible, and I appreciate you putting it on the screen, morally reprehensible. So I think morally reprehensible, when that is included in the quote makes it perfectly clear what my position is. A number of the people whom you have cited as condemning me have not made the inclusion of that remark, and so they make it seem, Alan, as if I am supporting such a monstrous idea, which of course I don't.
Mr. Bennett, when I heard the words you spoke, it didn't occur to me for a second that you were actually advocating for such a horrific act. It was your unmotivated expression of a correlation between blackness and crime, as if being a criminal is race-based, that took me aback, and is the reason you are in hot water. Your self-defense shows that you really don't get it.

Your rehearsed words on Hannity and Colmes say you are not a racist; your "off-the-cuff" words say otherwise. The next time you wonder why your party has a problem getting black votes, think back to September 28.


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6:42 PM  

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