Just Above Sunset
October 2, 2005 - Moralists Say the Oddest Things

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Written Thursday evening here in Hollywood as night descended and the air was filled with smoke from the twenty-thousand acre fire to the west, the Burbank fire to the north and another far out east - in Apocalypse (Local Version) - there was some mention, in all the other madness, of what William Bennett said this week on Morning in America, his radio show. Perhaps that deserves its own item.

The suggestion was that there was something in the air, beside the smoke.

As brief recap - we're talking about William J. "Bill" Bennett, born in Brooklyn, BA in philosophy from Williams, PhD from the University of Texas, Harvard law degree - co-director of "Empower America," the "Washington Fellow" out here at the Claremont Institute - and chairman of "Americans for Victory over Terrorism." He was Reagan's chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1981-1985) and Secretary of Education (1985-1988), and our "drug czar" (1989-1990). He's written sixteen books, but is most famous for The Book of Virtues and The Children's Book of Virtues. His latest is called Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. He's a moral man. Yes, there was that scandal with his compulsive gambling, but the right forgave him.

A minor note, William J. "Bill" Bennett's brother is Robert Bennett, Judy Miller's lawyer - you know, Miller is the New York Times reporter who just spent eighty-five days in jail for something or other. Friday, September 30, on CNN's "Situation Room," he, Robert, was being interviewed about why Miller got out of jail now, and about her testimony to the grand jury that morning, and where it was all leading. Then the host, Wolf Blitzer, blindsided him by asking what he thought of his brother's statements about aborting black babies. He was ticked-off at the change of topic and laid into Blitzer. (Partial transcript here.)


He didn't answer.

As for what Brother Bill said this week, that's given in full at Media Matters here (September 28) –


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.


Thursday evening you could see him on Fox News telling Sean Hannity this was no big deal. It was sociology or something. Friday this was all over the news, except he didn't appear on CNN's "Situation Room" - Wolf explained that was a contractual matter. Bennett is a Fox News commentator. CNN doesn't get him. But everyone else has comments Friday. Michigan Democrat John Conyers wrote a letter to the Salem Radio Network that syndicates "Morning in America" and requested Bennett be suspended. A glance at television during the day would net Nancy Pelosi being outraged, the Congressional Black Caucus being outraged, and the NAACP likewise. Everyone was piling on. CNN on the "Situation Room" had Jack Cafferty reading viewers' letters.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sent along this:


Oh yeah? Just change one word, from black to white: "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 WHITE 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."

It would fall off the chart.


Let me see - no babies, white or black or brown or yellow or green - no crime. Makes sense.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta:


Excellent idea! Had Bill only thought of this himself, he might have gotten himself off the hook.

(And if someone could find the statistics that back up this contention either way, black or white, I'd be curious to hear the results. The whole thing is weird.)


Yes, it is.

Curiously, on the left, Brad DeLong, the economics professor up at Berkeley who was a key player in the Clinton administration, defends Bennett


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.

But Bill Bennett is not afflicted with genocidal fantasies about ethnically cleansing African-Americans. The claim that he is is completely, totally wrong.

... Addressing a caller's suggestion that the "lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30 years" would be enough to preserve Social Security's solvency, radio host and former Reagan administration Secretary of Education Bill Bennett dismissed such "far-reaching, extensive extrapolations" by declaring that if "you wanted to reduce crime... if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Bennett conceded that aborting all African-American babies "would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do," then added again, "but the crime rate would go down."

Bennett did not "concede" that "aborting all African-American babies 'would be... morally reprehensible.'" That was his point. His caller said: "Abortion is bad because it has worsened the financing of Social Security." Bennett says: "Stay focused. We're anti-abortion not because we think that abortion is a means that leads to bad ends like a higher Social Security deficit; we're anti-abortion because abortion is bad; make arguments like 'abortion is bad because it increases the Social Security deficit' and other people will make arguments like 'abortion is good because it lowers the crime rate' and we'll lose sight of the main point."

Bennett is attempting a reductio ad absurdum argument.

Never attempt a reductio ad absurdum argument on talk radio. You can't keep exact control over your phrasing in real time, and so somebody is bound to think you are endorsing the horrible absurdity that you are rejecting.

(And, while we're at it: never get involved in a land war in Asia; do not read My Pet Goat when death is on the line; never play poker with a man named 'Doc'; never accept a battle of wits where iocane powder is a factor; never blithely download and install a file from Microsoft without carefully, carefully researching what it will do beforehand; never get involved in an argument over Noam Chomsky; and never post about human genetics on your web log.)


Seeing this, our Wall Street attorney friend reminded me of something concerning this advice about never getting involved in an argument over Noam Chomsky - "Didn't we try this once in one of your classes?" Yes, our Wall Street attorney friend was in my Language and Linguistics class back in the seventies, but the issue there was not political but rather about Chomsky's theories of language acquisition. Noam Chomsky also does psycholinguistics, right? That's what MIT hired him to do for all these years.  The other stuff is... other stuff.


The UCLA professor, of course, asks what's wrong with this picture? 

Brad DeLong defends Bill Bennett, and George W. Bush denounces him.


The explanation is simple, of course: DeLong has the acuity to parse a somewhat complex oral text, and the integrity to stand up for a wrongly-accused opponent. Bush, by contrast, neither knows nor cares what Bennett meant to say, and lacks the cojones to stand up for a wrongly-accused ally.


Yes, it's hard to feel very sorry for Bennett. The comment that tripped him up wasn't genocidal, but it was deeply intellectually dishonest: there's no legitimate comparison between claiming that unwanted children commit a disproportionate share of crime, and that therefore allowing women the choice of terminating pregnancies will reduce crime, and a proposal for forced abortions for all black women.


But Brad is right: Bennett, an abortion opponent, was rejecting a caller's invitation to claim that abortion restriction would improve the fiscal picture of Social Security, and trying to explain that the anti-abortion position should be argued for on moral rather than consequential grounds.


Anyway, nothing is going to happen here.  This Salem Radio Network is not going to do anything to Bennett, as Sarah Posner explains in this item.  She does her research.  Salem Radio Network's parent company is Salem Communications, a publicly traded media company which openly claims its programming is from a conservative Christian perspective.  The company owns over one hundred radio stations in major metropolitan markets and syndicates its programming to almost two thousand stations around the country.

Posner profiles CEO Ed Atsinger and his brother-in-law and Board Chairman Stuart Epperson, two key players in an effort that started fifteen years ago out here to "turn" the California Republican Party, and make it "radical Christian right" - funded by Howard Ahmanson, the fellow who owns Dirt Bike and Motorcross magazines and a few others.  Note to self: no more plays at the Ahmanson Theater, no off-road biking, and no Dominos Pizza.  Who would want a pizza from an organization that uses its profits to end abortion rights, outlaw homosexuality and get rid of Darwin in the schools?  Anyway, pizza is bad for you.

Salem Communications is headquartered, by the way, just up the coast in Camarillo, at the edge of this week's big fires. Is God trying to tell them something?

Note this, courtesy of BartCop:

JESUS - Stop Using Me

That'll do.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....