Natural Unborn Killers
The bigotry of Bill Bennett's low expectations.
Is it morally acceptable to predict the criminal propensity of unborn children based on the color of their skin?
That's what former education secretary and drug czar Bill Bennett did last Wednesday on his radio show. When a caller suggested that legal abortions had depleted the tax base for Social Security, Bennett counseled against such utilitarian arguments. "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," Bennett volunteered. "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."
Some people think Bennett was endorsing the abortion of black babies. Wrong. Read the quote again. He called the idea reprehensible. But he did say, twice, that if you got rid of those babies, the "crime rate would go down."
Is that statement true? Is it acceptable? Here's what Bennett's defenders are saying.
1. Bennett didn't say it. According to the Weekly Standard, "The AP wire blared the headline: 'Bennett: Black Abortions Would Lower Crime,' which was pretty much the polar opposite of what he actually said and believes."
Nope, sorry. Read the quote. That's exactly what he said. Twice.
2. Bennett didn't single out blacks. Here's how Bennett retold the tale on Hannity & Colmes: "I said abortion is invoked in another way; you could make an argument that if you wanted to lower the crime rate—you saw the quote—you could practice abortion in very large numbers. You could do it in the black community; you could do it in other places. ... 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 ... morally reprehensible."
Wrong again. Bennett didn't say you could cut the crime rate by practicing abortion "in other places" or "any other community." He said you could cut it by aborting blacks.
3. Bennett admitted his mistake. John Gibson of Fox News claims that Bennett "says he misspoke. I mean, one of the ways he misspoke is not saying, 'Let's abort every white and black baby, then your crime would go down. It's not just black babies.' "
Misspoke? That's a mighty charitable description. But no, Bennett hasn't admitted even that. Thursday night, CNN asked him whether he owed anyone an apology. He replied, "I don't think I do. I think people who misrepresented my view owe me an apology."
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of President Bush and Bill Bennett by Paul J. Richards/Agence-France Presse.