Bill Bennett, Leninist
Ben Bernanke's Glut Theory

Partial Recantation

Armando of the Daily Kos writes:

Daily Kos: State of the Nation: The Power of Words by Armando: Sometimes I have a hard time understanding folks. Here's a case in point -- I find it hard to understand why good intelligent folks sometimes do not recognize the power of words.

Two good intelligent Center Left bloggers, Brad DeLong and Matt Yglesias, have stated that, in essence, there is nothing wrong with what Bill Bennett said about aborting the pregnancies of all black women reducing the crime rate. DeLong simply misses the point - arguing that Bennett was not calling for such a measure. I don't think anyone sensible thought he was. Of course the real issue was the correlation of African Americans with criminal propensities....

So here's my question -- how do Yglesias and DeLong expect African-Americans to react to Bennett's statement? Are they to automatically make the assumptions that I must believe Yglesias implies we should assume? Would Yglesias at least grant that Bennett's choice of examples was unfortunate, apt to cause consternation and hurt among African-Americans? Would Yglesias at least concede that the statement was insensitive?

I think that I must concede that Armando is broadly right on many points. I must (partially) recant.

IIRC, Steve Levitt's argument--which I don't know if I believe--was that the children of unplanned pregnancies have a much higher propensity to grow up to commit crimes than the children of planned pregnancies. Hence the coming of abortion-on-demand--with its enormous reduction in the number of unplanned pregnancies brought to term--carried with it a large reduction in the crime rate a generation later. When Bennett tries to summarize this argument on the fly and on the air as part of constructing his reductio ad absurdum argument, he replaces unplanned with African-American. That is not a good thing to do.

You could try to save Bennett by imposing a non-racist interpretation on his statement. You could interpret him as meaning: "society puts enormous pressures on African-American males as they grow up that greatly increase the odds that they commit crimes." Indeed, that's how I first interpreted him. But on reflection that cannot be what Bennett meant. Bennett does not believe that society creates criminals: Bennett believes that if you commit crimes it is because you are a bad, flawed, weak, irresponsible, immoral person--that there is something wrong with your essence and with your choices, because it is your responsibility to obey the law.

As I wrote: "Bill Bennett is a hypocrite, a loathsome fungus on the tree of American politics, a man who has worked unceasingly to make America a worse place--when he's not publishing the work of others under his own name, or rolling the dice at Las Vegas while claiming that America's poor would be rich if only they had the righteousness and moral fiber than he does." His mental slippage from unplanned to African-American is yet more evidence of this.

But I still maintain that Bill Bennett is not afflicted with genocidal fantasies about ethnically cleansing America of African-Americans.