The current flap over former Secretary of Education William Bennett’s remarks last week reveals just what a bizarre set of taboos Americans have imposed on themselves when it comes to race—and what a political booby trap leftists have managed to rig around the subject, ready to explode in a burst of career-destroying shrapnel at the slightest misstep. Yes, it was insensitive of Mr. Bennett to notice the fact that black Americans commit violent crimes in highly disproportionate numbers. It’s worth making a special effort not to incriminate the vast majority of law-abiding black citizens—many of whom grow up poor in broken homes, subjected to stronger temptations than those of us who grew up differently. Given the history of eugenics in the last century, one can understand a certain touchiness on the subject. But the ferocity with which liberals pounced on Bennett—so soon after accusing President Bush of racism for FEMA’s failure to (do black Mayor Ray Nagin’s job for him and) rescue black New Orleanians—betray a profound political cynicism, and a willingness to seize crassly (and selectively) upon human tragedy to make cheap rhetorical points.
To recap the Bennett flap: Mr. Bennett is being condemned for a slip of the tongue which contravened the rules of polite discourse which govern how crime is depicted in mainstream media. Bennett was speaking on the radio about an assertion by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, who claimed in their ludicrously overpraised book Freakonomics that abortion decreases crime—essentially by imposing capital punishment in advance on babies who are more likely to grow up as felons. Let’s leave aside for a moment how morally repulsive this idea is—reeking of precisely the same eugenic logic preached by Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, who called for “more children from the fit, fewer from the unfit.” Worse than evil, this argument isn’t even valid. It has been comprehensively dismantled by the clear-thinking and candid Steve Sailer, who showed that the crime decline attributed by Dubner and Levitt to legal abortion in fact had far more to do with a decline in the popularity of crack, and the election of mayors such as Rudolph Giuliani in New York. Since blacks are disproportionately the victims as well of violent crime, any improvement in public order will save far more black lives and livelihoods than white. Of course, because most such tough-on-crime mayors are Republican, they won’t get the credit for this.
Now you’d think that a couple of economists who spoke with thinly veiled enthusiasm about culling entire social classes before they are born in order to kill off future criminals would find themselves exiled from decent society. I know I wouldn’t sit down and eat with this kind of creep. But far from ostracism, Messrs. Dubner and Levitt are heroes. Their book is a massive best-seller, recently excerpted by the New York Times. How did they manage this coup? Because they didn’t mention race. They presented their argument about thinning out the crop of future felons, and conveniently left out the fact that most of these children aborted would be poor, and either Hispanic or black. This allowed the reader to fill in the blank—and fantasize about suppressing the crime rate a little more, and maybe reclaiming some blighted neighborhoods as well, by arranging for “fewer children from the unfit.” I once heard people talking precisely this way at a cocktail party, and stepped in to ask them, “By that logic, why don’t you just carpet bomb the ghetto? That would cut crime too.” Without cracking a smile, one of them said, “That wouldn’t be as politically palatable.” I steered clear of this knot of sociopaths for the rest of the evening.
Now Mr. Bennett, in his commentary, was making the same point I was, which Steven Sailer reiterates—that the theory presented by Dubner and Levitt is “impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible.” But in the course of his comments, Bennett made the mistake of noticing the African elephant in the bathtub—the fact that since the residents of America’s prisons are disproportionately black, people who daydream about emptying those prisons by killing off their residents before they are even born are fantasizing about killing black people. This fact was noticed decades ago by no less a race-baiter than the Rev. Jesse Jackson, when he called legal abortion “black genocide.” That hasn’t stopped Jackson from supporting legal abortion, however—or cozying up to President Bill Clinton, who as commander in chief ordered the withdrawal of U.S. peace-keeping forces from Rwanda, leaving millions of defenseless Tutsis to be slaughtered with machetes, while our and other nations’ blue helmets sped off to safety in other countries. Now which U.S. president was it, again, who doesn’t care about saving the lives of black people? (For a scathing look at Clinton’s blatant disregard for millions of African lives, see the powerful new documentary Broken Promises: The UN at 60, narrated by Ron Silver—coming soon to theaters.)
The irony gets richer; Reverend Jackson’s son, the Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., has insisted that “William Bennett should be censured and fined by the Federal Communications Commission for his repugnant and barbarous remarks.” Do you think the younger Jackson has forgotten his own father’s remarks—or that he’s unaware that black Americans are the primary targets of those who would promote abortion in order to thin out the ranks of the poor? Or is he simply and cynically ignoring the facts?
Instead, I would suggest, the younger Jackson is playing masterfully by the rules of racial rhetoric as they are currently laid out in American discourse. As this affair makes clear, among these commandments, three are the greatest:
1) Thou shalt ignore any statistics that cast racial minorities, even provisionally, in an unflattering light.
2) Thou shalt condemn anyone who mentions these statistics as a racist, even if you know that he is not a racist. The truth is not important. The important thing is the taboo.
3) Thou mayst entertain and promote racist fantasies of eliminating poor babies, Hispanic babies, and black babies in the womb, so long as you don’t mention their race. It’s okay to kill them, but not to mention their race.
Now that we’ve gotten all that clear, we can watch as Mr. Bennett is hounded into apology after apology, and perhaps driven out of public life, while the upper-class leftists who live in gated communities or high-rises with doormen indulge their bloodthirsty daydreams, secure in the knowledge that they’re not racists. Not at all.
John Zmirak is author of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living.
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