William Bennett’s faux pas

I couldn’t help but comment on this article.

It seems like an incredibly stupid thing to say, and I noticed how the bold type under the headline seemed to quote him in the most provocative way possible, as if this were something to be entertained. It’s not nearly as provocative–but still stupid–when you read the context here:

“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 impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down,” he said.

The exact same statment could be made about whites or hispanics, because all races commit crimes. Giving Bennett the benefit of the doubt, however, I think his premise may have been that, statistically, black people on a whole commit/are convicted of more crimes per capita than other races. This is a statement of fact which could be proved or disproved. I can’t imagine what good he was trying to accomplish by speaking as he did in such inflammatory terms.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Addendum 10-4-2005

After a few comments back and forth with those who disagreed with me, I find myself appreciating their perspective a bit more. (At this point, I wouldn’t have written the original post in such definitive terms, but I’ll leave it there since those were my thoughts at that the time. Admittedly my context was somewhat limited too, and I didn’t take the time to pursue it further.)

A few sage words from a friend. It’s good to have friends who agree with you, and perhaps even better to have friends who disagree.

I think it’s ok to speak out loud, or in print, a particular conclusion, as evil as it sounds, given the right context and critique. And while Bennett’s comments were abbreviated, I thought he did a decent enough job given the medium he was working with. I am disappointed in everyone else, supposedly bright legislators and media folks, and their inability/unwillingness to actually think through what was said.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “William Bennett’s faux pas

  1. Phil

    I disagree, Jonathan. I think he was trying to make a point about ends justifying means. If you continue to look at the context, including the conversation leading up to the statement, any accusation of racism and/or actual belief that blacks = crime as some have said is his belief, well, is clearly false.

  2. Phil

    Additionally, you can see more context at my blog, http://philber.codeffects.com/otde2/

  3. Anonymous

    Actually, you can’t say the same thing for whites/hispanics necessarily. If blacks commit more crime per capita (ie have the higher crime RATE), then you would be forced to say that whites commit less crime per capita, and a lower rate, and aborting every white baby in the country would actually increase the crime rate, but lower the absolute amount of crime.

    I think, given the full conversation on the radio talk show, he was not only not being racist and inflammatory, but I think he was making a point to the caller on the show, as Phil said. But big surprise Nancy Pelosi would have something nice to say about it.

  4. Jonathan

    Thanks for your comments, Phil, and for providing the link with more context. Of course I agree that the people blasting him really aren’t trying to legitimately understand his point, i.e., to put the comment in context. And it’s disappointing that people more intent on criticizing than being fair are able to make so much news.

    However I stand by my post. Those who argue in the public forum should be aware of the milieu in which they speak, and even with the statement’s context, I still find it inappropriate.

  5. Jonathan

    Okay, okay, anonymous! 🙂 I stand corrected: your logic is right about crime rate being measured per capita. But it still seems like a bit of a technicality!

    Maybe I should stick to posting on Emily Dickenson and leave controversial current events in a non-print forum.

    Lessons learned: Look at the context. And don’t depend on CNN.com for all relevant context.

    Thanks for your comments!

  6. Phil

    While I think it is wise to be aware of your current milieu and state of the culture and society, I still think there is a time to call people on certain “associations” that, when taken to their logical end, must call into question the initial “association” found through statistical finagling and data mining. Otherwise, people are going to never figure out the difference between an association and causation, something very important. After all, 99% of all people who develop iuncurable cancers eat bread and drink water.

    I think it’s ok to speak out loud, or in print, a particular conclusion, as evil as it sounds, given the right context and critique. And while Bennett’s comments were abbreviated, I thought he did a decent enough job given the medium he was working with. I am disappointed in everyone else, supposedly bright legislators and media folks, and their inability/unwillingness to actually think through what was said.

  7. Phil

    And just for fun, check this guy out. He’s even done the statistics grunt work to even disprove Freakonomics hypothesis about abortion and lowered crime rates.

    http://isteve.blogspot.com/2005/09/william-bennett-blasted-for-citing.html

  8. Phil

    And here is Leavitt’s response to the Bennett controversy

  9. Jonathan

    Thanks again for your remarks, Phil. I’ve edited my original post.

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