Friday, September 30, 2005

Mr. Bennett's Virtue

Over the last twenty-five years, conservative politicians have successfully waged a campaign to demonize the word "liberal," as representing a political/philosophical position which is anti-family, anti-life, and which promotes vice, immorality, and the tolerance of crime. This has been an effective political strategem, attracting large numbers of evangelical Christians to the Republican party, and is viewed by many as the reason George W. Bush was elected twice (or perhaps more accurately, elected one and a half times). The downside to painting oneself virtuous and your opponent an immoral snake, comes when the paragons of virtue are caught doing things that seem, well, immoral.

Since I have recently written about both abortion and racism, I found these two subjects perfectly wed in today's news. William Bennett, former Education Secretary under Reagan, Drug Czar under Poppy Bush, and more recently a self-appointed moral guardian of our nation's youth through his Book of Virtues, fell headlong into a hornet's nest of outrage over comments he made Wednesday on his radio program. Here are his comments:

BENNETT: 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.
(For an audio clip of this statement in its context you can go to Media Matters)

Mr. Bennett is now trying to "spin" these comments, but he will have a difficult time explaining the words I placed in italics, "but your crime rate would go down." I have no doubt that Mr. Bennett abhors abortion, and was engaging in a thought experiment, but his statement reveals the underlying racist assumptions of many (if not most) white Americans. It is definitely racist to say that crime would be reduced if blacks were aborted, imprisoned, deported, etc. The moral of this story, and one which Mr. Bennett might include in a revision of his Book of Virtues, is that we are all sinners, and sin affects our mind, our presuppositions, and our politics. The danger in positioning yourself or your organization as virtuous and your opposition as immoral, is that one day those words will come back to haunt you as you tumble from your "high ground" to become an object of ridicule for your hubris and hypocrisy.


Blogger homo unius libri said...

The argument raised by Bennet was not his, but one from a book by some pointy-headed intellectuals. He was using their opinions to demonstrate the danger of extrapolating possible outcomes based on limited facts. As usual the MSM and radical left takes such statements out of context and uses them to bash anyone who does not walk in lock-step with their liberal ideals.

To hear Bennet's defense and learn the true context (not a snippet) check this out.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Scribe said...

Well....I still don't buy the spin. I think he believes that if all black babies were aborted crime would decrease.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Miss Eagle said...

On ya for your thoughts but like rs&r am surprised that no one drew a parallel with Levitt & Dubner's Freakonomics. Levitt himself has picked up on it. Go see at I wonder, without defending Bennett, if we could give a more positive twist to this - like what we if aborted all those who caused people to live in poverty: then the crime rate would go down. What if we aborted all overt and covert white supremacists: then you would get a broader demographic in congress and the senate. What if we aborted all male chauvinists: we could get rid of the glass ceiling. What if we had aborted "you": what injustice would be have diminished then.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Steve said...


Is it racist to state/assert/believe that blacks commit more crimes proportionately than other racial groups?

This seems to me to be the underlying discomfort and assumption of Bennett's comments. Abortion has little to do with this.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

I agree, abortion has nothing to do with this. Bennett is consistently pro-life. What is offensive is the sum of his logic: less blacks means less crime. That's racism. Even the White House went out of its way to distance itself. Perhaps black citizens commit disproportionate numbers of crimes, but isn't that a result of the hopelessness and despair they experience living in poverty, and amidst appalling prejudice? Is it not in part due to limited economic and educational options? Of course the issue is complex, but very few if any white people would trade places with even a middle class black person. Who would want to live in a culture which despises, fears, and oppresses you?

It's interesting to note that Canada has an almost equal % of non-white citizens, but lacks the social tension. Why? Perhaps it is due to a governmental system which cares for all people, regardless of race.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

So if you agree it's a possibility that black commit a disproportionate amount of crimes, and if that's the premise Bennett was working from, and if Bennett himself clarified in the original statement that it would be a horrendous hypothetical to abort blacks, then what's the problem?

The only problem is the politically incorrect appearance of racism, when there isn't any there. If one actually follows the argument, that's clear. The White House distance is for political reasons, to avoid the appearance of agreeing with the false impression Bennett gave.

See this link for more on this...

Bennett didn't take any position on the cause of the disproportion, he simply made a roundabout argument that there IS a disproportion going on. And I don't think it's racist to point it out. Unpopular. Not said in "polite" society. But not racist. Just like it wouldn't be particularly anti-male to point out that men commit most crimes.

I prefer the Bible's explanation for sin (Rom 1:20-23 or James 1:13-14) over your environmental reasons, although not denying the reality of those influences to a degree. You can take the man out of the sin-cesspool, but the sin will still be in the man.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

I would like to give Bennett the benefit of the doubt, and I don't consider him a bad person. It is the combination of abortion (used in this thought experiment as a form of eugenics) and black/white relations which makes his comments so inflammatory.

In other words, yes there is disproportion. Yes, men are more violent than women. But when you add race to a comment like this, you carry with it 300+ years of bigotry & its societal effects. So it is more than a statistical issue - it is a terrifying idea to a people who already feel terrorized from within and without. What galled me the most, was his lack of remorse and the absence of an apology.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

For a completely insane take on this whole issue, and one which made me laugh for five straight minutes, check out this add from the spoof site, Landover Baptist Church.

4:13 PM  
Blogger c.t. said...

The Bennett quote, horribly out of context and presented in a horrible disingenuous, outright dishonest, way by the main stream media was FIRST given a wide airing on the Howard Stern show, brought to his attention by one of his snivelling crew, and even Stern, though he milked it because he hates Bennett for criticisms he's received from Bennett, admitted that the soundclip gave a false impression of what Bennett had actually said.

My God, how easy it is to smear individuals in this current, left-wing media environment...

6:02 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Some more I thought you might find thought-provoking:

9:33 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

While I often disagree with Wilson, I usually find him an interesting and informative writer. This piece was, however, shameful and a most brazen example of both ignorance and a lack of empathy. I didn't think anyone would have the courage to utter such filth since the days of Kipling and the "White Man's Burden." I'm sorry Steve, but this was not helpful, and indeed reduced my estimation of Wilson considerably.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Wow, Scott,

I put it up there, because I thought you'd agree with it - the thesis that white culture is just as racist and sinful as black culture.

What was shameful, particularly? Is it the assumption that there are different cultures?

3:43 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

His statement that living in a racist nation (or system) only affects black people "on the margins" is not only untrue, but incredibly ignorant of how black people live in America (Idaho, where Wilson, I believe lives, has the fewest in the nation).

Then there is his argument that black "paganism" is different from white paganism (infering that it was more toxic to their present culture). This is merely a racist sentiment without merit or evidence. I also found it offensive when he says "white liberals pay blacks to destroy themselves." That's outrageous and inflammatory, and again without merit or evidence.

But my ire is also directed at his typically smug, cynical, and arrogant language concerning both blacks and whites. I'm sorry, but I have grave reservations about Wilson's message and style, which is partly a matter of taste, but also one of concern for those who live in fear of the police, amidst crumbling schools, in horrific housing, and with little or no hope.

7:53 PM  
Blogger c.t. said...

I also found it offensive when he says "white liberals pay blacks to destroy themselves."

The soul-killing welfare culture certainly does destroy.

but also one of concern for those who live in fear of the police

In fear of black on black crime. Liberals in the media put forth the myth that police tyrannize black populations because it's in the interest of liberals to put that forth. Liberals have to cover up their incredibly malignant co-dependence on black voters. If liberals don't keep blacks in a state of ignorance and economic powerlessness they stop voting for liberals.

Your indignation is wildly off-the-mark...

8:27 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

C.T. I don't know where you live, and I don't know how much life experience you have with Americans of color (black, brown, red, yellow), but I think you are downplaying the reality people live with.

Perhaps talk with some people about being pulled over for being black, being constantly searched, being arrested for looking suspicious, being put on death row for not having an competent attorney, for being viewed as less than human, and for being segregated by actions implicit and explicit by well-meaning folks in society and the church. I grew up in New York City, and I have people of color in my congregation, and their stories would serve as a healthy counterbalance to your naivete.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Scribe said...

My apologies for my intemperance. For some reason Douglas Wilson just presses all the wrong buttons in me and always has. It is my experience that the comments I listed perpetuate a "blame the victim" mentality, which is evident by some of the posts in this section.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I took Wilson to simply be saying that different races have different ways of sinning, and that whites can't claim superiority of race.

The way he goes about arguing that assumes political positions that are opposite of yours. So forget that. Can you at least agree with my paragraph above?

I also wonder if you can see that sin cannot be justified by a history of social injustice.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Scribe said...


I can agree with both your paragraph and your statement. I don't ever want to try to justify sin for any reason, institutional, societal, whatever. I still believe in total depravity and am suspicious of all "solutions" that aren't spiritual ones. Thanks.

12:15 PM  

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