Bennett defended racial comments with falsehood

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

On the September 29 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett defended comments he made the day before linking crime rates and abortion by blacks. Bennett, who said that "it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime ... you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down," claimed that he was taken out of context, and that his comment was based on a 1999 Slate.com online discussion between Steven D. Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics (William Morrow, May 2005), and right-wing columnist Steve Sailer, in which Bennett claimed that Levitt "discusse[d], as I did, the racial implications of abortion and crime." Levitt did not. In fact, in the Slate debate that Bennett cited, Levitt said the opposite of what Bennett claimed: "None of our analysis is race-based because the crime data by race is generally not deemed reliable."

On his September 29 broadcast, Bennett said: "The author of Freakonomics, Steve Levitt engages the theory that abortion reduces crime, and he also discusses, as I did, the racial implications of abortion and crime. And he does that in an extended debate on Slate.com." But in the course of the three-day Slate.com discussion, Levitt barely mentioned race. In fact, on the first day of the discussion, Levitt noted specifically that race was not a key part to his theory:

As an aside, it has been both fascinating and disturbing to me how the media have insisted on reporting this as a study about race, when race really is not an integral part of the story. The link between abortion and unwantedness, and also between unwantedness and later criminality, have been shown most clearly in Scandinavian data. Abortion rates among African-Americans are higher, but overall, far more abortions are done by whites. None of our analysis is race-based because the crime data by race is generally not deemed reliable.

In a September 30 response to Bennett's comments, Levitt further asserted the marginality of race with regard to his theory: "Race is not an important part of the abortion-crime argument that John Donohue and I have made in academic papers and that [co-author Stephen J.] Dubner and I discuss in Freakonomics."

The only significant discussion of race during the Slate debate came from Sailer on day two. Sailer writes for the anti-immigration website VDARE.com and has defended the Pioneer Fund -- an organization designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its support of the work of white supremacists, eugenicists, and others dedicated to proving the genetic superiority of certain races.

On his September 28 broadcast, Bennett stated that he disagreed with Levitt and Dubner's theory that abortion reduces crime because "there is just too much that you don't know." But in commenting that black abortions would reduce the crime rate, Bennett appeared to accept and extend it beyond what they intended. As Levitt noted in his September 30 response to Bennett: "There is one thing I would take Bennett to task for: first saying that he doesn't believe our abortion-crime hypothesis but then revealing that he does believe it with his comments about black babies. You can't have it both ways."

From the September 29 broadcast of Salem Radio Network's Bill Bennett's Morning in America:

BENNETT: Let me deal with something that came up yesterday, and my critics and enemies are trying to make hay out of it, trying to discredit me. Let me give you the context and explain what's going on and then get back to business. We had a caller yesterday, and he posed the idea that if we didn't have abortion, we'd have no Social Security problems, and that you shouldn't have abortions because it will lead -- if you don't have abortions, you'll have better economics.

So this led to a discussion where I argued that this is an unknowable proposition. I cited the analysis and discussion in this bestselling book, Freakonomics. Uh, it's on the closely related topic of abortion and crime. Well, there is a campaign making hay of my remarks and taking them out of context and totally reversing my obvious meaning. The author of Freakonomics, Steve Levitt, engages the theory that abortion reduces crime, and he also discusses, as I did, the racial implications of abortion and crime. And he does that in an extended debate on Slate.com. I was referencing this debate and pointing out how tricky it is to argue for a pro-life position because of economic benefits. I was pointing out that abortion shouldn't be opposed for economic reasons any more than racism should be supported or opposed for economic reasons. Immoral policies are wrong. And they're wrong because they're wrong, not because of an economic calculus. One could just as easily have said you could abort all children and prevent all crime, uh, which is certainly true, to show the absurdity of the situ -- of the proposition. So let me repeat: These are matters which scholars talk about, which people write books about, which are debated in public policy relations among abortion, crime, and race. That's what we were talking about. Sensitive area, absolutely.

As a philosopher, I was showing the limitation of one argument by showing the absurdity of another. I was showing the fallacy of a proposition by using what's called an argumentum ad absurdum or an argumentum ad finum. But in sum, let me just re-state what I said yesterday: The whole idea of aborting anyone to reduce crime is, as I said on the air yesterday, "impossible, ridiculous, and morally-reprehensible." That should end it. That should be clear enough to anyone with an open mind. This whole thing is ridiculous, totally without merit. People will keep yelling about it, but -- you have a comment, Seth [Liebsohn, Morning in America producer]?

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