Earlier this week I wrote far too much about Bill Bennett's reductio ad absurdum that it can be dangerous to take a flyer on the possibility that we wouldn't have a Social Security crisis if all of those 30+ million aborted future workers were around to fund grandma's Social Security check. Bennett illustrated the danger of this sort of argument by pointing out the sad fact that you could lower the crime rate by aborting all black babies. (A sad, but true fact.) Bennett, who is staunchly pro-life, stated that doing such a thing would be morally reprehensible. But the utilitarian argument he was attempting to knock down was ignored by the professional race-baiters and grievance-mongers.
I explained that one reason the White House and others who would normally support Bennett distanced themselves from him was that there are too many stupid people who would never be able or willing to understand the philosophical argument Bennett was illustrating.
You'd think that on the opinion pages of national newspapers there would be more thoughtful analysis. If you read The Washington Post you get it -- even from a raging liberal like Richard Cohen.
For prominent Democrats, it seemed it was not enough to forget their manners about DeLay. They then abandoned their party's tradition -- I would say "obligation" -- of defending unpopular speech by piling on William Bennett, the former education secretary, best-selling author and now, inevitably, talk show host.
Responding to a caller who argued that if abortion were outlawed the Social Security trust fund would benefit -- more people, more contributions, was the apparent (idiotic) reasoning -- Bennett said, sure, he understood what the fellow was saying. It was similar to the theory that the low crime rate of recent years was the consequence of high abortion rates: the fewer African American males born, the fewer crimes committed. (Young black males commit a disproportionate share of crime.) This theory has been around for some time. Bennett was not referring to anything new.
But he did add something very important: If implemented, the idea would be "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do."
He should have saved his breath. Prominent Democrats -- Harry Reid in the Senate, John Conyers and Rahm Emanuel in the House and, of course, Pelosi -- jumped all over him. Conyers wanted Bennett suspended from his radio show. Emanuel said Bennett's comments "reflect a spirit of hate and division." Pelosi said Bennett was out of the mainstream, and Reid simply asked for an apology.
Actually, it is Reid and the others who should apologize to Bennett. They were condemning and attempting to silence a public intellectual for a reference to a theory. It was not a proposal and not a recommendation -- nothing more than a possible explanation. But the Democrats preferred to pander to an audience that either had heard Bennett's remarks out of context, or merely thought that any time conservatives talk about race, they are being racist. The Democrats' obligation as politicians, as public officials, to see that we all hear the widest and richest diversity of views was suspended in favor of partisan cheap shots. (The spineless White House also refused to defend Bennett.) Because I came of age in the McCarthy era, I have always thought of the Democratic Party as more protective of free speech and unpopular thought than the Republican Party. The GOP was the party of Joe McCarthy, William Jenner and other witch-hunters. Now, though, it is the Democrats who use the pieties of race, ethnicity and gender to stifle debate and smother thought, pretty much what anti-intellectual intellectuals did to Larry Summers, the president of Harvard University, when he had the effrontery to ask some unorthodox questions about gender and mathematical aptitude. He was quickly instructed on how to think.
If you read the San Diego Union-Tribune on the other hand, you get the stupidity. From Ruben Navarrette:
Yet there is not much to like in Bennett's remarks last week suggesting that one way to reduce crime in the United States is to "abort every black baby in this country." That would be, as Bennett insisted in his next breath, "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do." But, he concluded, "your crime rate would go down."
Bennett has spent the last week refusing to apologize, insisting his words were taken out of context and mischaracterized.
That's not a good argument when what you said was caught on tape.
Bennett says that he was merely engaging in a "thought experiment" and that his comments should not be receiving this level of attention. He's also playing the victim, insisting that what should really offend people is the way that he is being treated.
Bennett should quit blustering and apologize.
His remarks were hurtful, insensitive and unfit for any forum, let alone a nationally syndicated radio show heard in more than 100 markets. At worst, the comments were racist. At best, what Bennett called a thought experiment was just plain thoughtless.
I look forward to Navarrette's next column condemning NPR/Fox News' Juan Williams for suggesting (second item) that abortions be mandatory for Jews, Christians, the mentally ill, the elderly, whites and Jews again. Williams picked on Jews twice -- he must really harbor some unacknowledged anti-Semitism.
I must confess that I almost didn't make it all the way through Navarrette's column because of the misstatement of fact that he made in the first paragraph.
I can't decide which is more nauseating: Bill Bennett's stupid remarks suggesting that aborting black babies could solve the crime problem; or the way in which some of Bennett's pals in the conservative media have tried to excuse what he said by pooh-poohing the idea that his remarks were, in any way, offensive.
"Solve the crime problem?" As Navarrette later acknowledges, Bennett never said that -- reducing the crime rate doesn't "solve" the crime problem -- but when a person's words are at issue, you've got a responsibility as a journalist to be accurate.