After former Secretary of Education William Bennett said that "you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down," the media jumped on his back
because he seemed to advocate a form of ethnic cleansing to reduce the crime rate. There would be quite a story here, if that was, in fact, the entirety of what he said. But, of course, it wasn't.
What Bennett actually said in full shows not only a lack of racism in his remarks, it explains why he said what he did. The full transcript is as follows:
CALLER: I noticed the national media, you know, they talk a lot about the loss of revenue, or the inability of the government to fund Social Security, and I was curious, and I've read articles in recent months here, that the abortions that have happened since Roe v. Wade, the lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30-something years, could fund Social Security as we know it today. And the media just doesn't -- never touches this at all.
BENNETT: Assuming they're all productive citizens?
CALLER: Assuming that they are. Even if only a portion of them were, it would be an enormous amount of revenue.
BENNETT: Maybe, maybe, but we don't know what the costs would be, too. I think as -- abortion disproportionately occur among single women? No.
CALLER: I don't know the exact statistics, but quite a bit are, yeah.
BENNETT: All right, well, I mean, I just don't know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don't know. I mean, it cuts both -- you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well --
CALLER: Well, I don't think that statistic is accurate.
BENNETT: Well, I don't think it is either, I don't think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don't know. 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. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.
I bought Freakonomics last summer and read it in a few days, and I thought the notion that Roe v. Wade lowered the crime rate was interesting, but the authors Levitt and Dubner did put in some good analysis of an admittedly callous way of studying both crime and abortion. They first consider the worth of a human fetus from two standpoints, one who believes that a fetus is worth as much as a human being, 1:1, and for this person, abortion should obviously be illegal because the sheer number of people killed far outstrips the number that may be saved later from their murderers being aborted from the get-go. The second person believes that a fetus isn't worth any part of a human being, and that abortion isn't a crime or morally wrong at all. For this person, the link between abortion and a crime drop is a good thing: a proof that legalized abortion is good for society. They then consider a third person. From the book (italics mine):
"But let's consider a third person. (If you identify strongly with either person number one of person number two, the following exercise might strike you as offensive, and you may want to skip this paragraph and the next.) This person does not believe that a fetus is the 1:1 equivalent of a newborn, yet neither does he believe that a fetus has no relative value, and he decides that 1 newborn is worth 100 fetuses.
There are roughly 1.5 million abortions in the United States every year. For a person who believes that 1 newborn is worth 100 fetuses, those 1.5 million abortions would translate - dividing 1.5 million by 100 - into the equivalent of a loss of 15,000 human lives. Fifteen thousand lives: that happens to be about the same number of people who die in homicides in the United States every year. And it is far more than the number of homicides eliminated each year due to legalized abortion. So even for someone who considers a fetus to be worth only one one-hundredth of a human being, the trade-off between higher abortion and lower crime is, by an economist's reckoning, terribly inefficient."
This is the end of the chapter in the book Bennett was referencing. I have a feeling Bennett didn't read the book, or he would've seen the sentence I put in italics, and he would've known that the authors of Freakonomics didn't intend their analysis to be prescriptive. It was simply descriptive. But to his credit, he did get a general notion of the gist of the (quite interesting) chapter.
Now, why did everyone jump on Bennett? Was it because his assertion was wrong? Not really. He should've replaced "black" with "poor" in his statement, as it would've been more correct and not racially loaded, but because blacks are disproportionately poor in the US, and the poor commit the most crime, his statement wasn't untrue. It was callous, but not untrue. (On an aside note, those on the left who jumped on Bennett's case for making a leap comparing poor to black don't seem to have a problem making the same leap when, say, criticizing Bush's reaction to hurricane Katrina, calling the lack of help for New Orleans's poor racist.)
Back to the call-in show, it is also worth noting that Bennett was responding to a caller implying that Roe v. Wade was responsible for the current social security money problems. This is an insult to the pro-life position (I am opposed to the criminalization of abortion, by the way). What some people don't realize is that the majority of those in the pro-life camp aren't against Roe v. Wade because they don't like women, don't like privacy, and don't care about the health of those who are pregnant. They are simply defending, in their minds, human life. For someone to come along and tell an aptly-named "pro-lifer" that "We should save thousands of innocent human lives from being slaughtered for social security solvency" is as bad as telling an aptly-named "pro-choicer" that "We should infringe on the rights of millions of women to save a few bucks." Either way, the caller had a gross misunderstanding of the abortion debate.
What Bennett did was argue against aborting black babies, which is quite obvious in the sentence after. He argued against the ludicrous assertion of the caller by positing another ludicrous assertion and arguing against it. It is an effective tool of argument, but unfortunately, some in the media didn't take it that way.
It is a tired rant that the media is slanted toward the sensational at the expense of the truth, but I'm tired of it. Ears perk up if the words "black" or "abortion" are used in a sentence, and if both are, all reporters are ready with their laptops. The fourth estate needs to develop more than their sense of smelling blood. They need to develop common sense.