Politics & Policy

Bennett One More Time

Let's stick with what he said, not the racist baggage of the critics.

The most obvious problem with the Bill Bennett controversy last week is the p.c. aspect of it–namely, that some topics, such as the nexus between race and crime, simply cannot be discussed without people of good will being painted as bigots.

The most pernicious problem, though, is much more subtle. And recognizing it is a necessary lesson in how the ethnic grievance industry’s narrative has extorted us into refraining from serious discussions of serious problems.

Central is Bennett’s comment that the overall crime rate would be reduced if every black baby were aborted. (Which, he made abundantly clear, he was not recommending and thinks a morally reprehensible notion.)

Now, let’s leave aside that if Bennett had his druthers there would be no abortions of black babies, and that his most vitriolic critics are pro-abortion folks who would be content to see all black babies aborted if that were their mothers’ “choice.”

The striking thing I have heard–in my mail, in debating this controversy publicly, and in much of what has been written about it–involves something Bennett did not say. Indeed, it is something he did not even imply. Yet, his critics have been all too anxious to assume it as the jumping off point for their oh-so-insightful critiques.

It is: the spin that Bennett was claiming there was something innate about black people that disposes them toward crime.

Bennett did not say anything like that. His remarks were, quite obviously, based on blacks as they live in our society. He could just as easily (and, for his sake, less consequentially) have picked out any identifiable ethnic, racial, or other group whose rate of committing crime is higher than the national rate.

Bennett’s comments, palpably, were not a commentary on what makes black people tick. They were a reflection of an inarguable statistical reality–namely, that blacks, considered as a single community, commit crimes at a higher rate than the national average. Many concerned black leaders acknowledge as much.

Bennett did not say that the reason for this fact is that blacks are somehow preternaturally disposed toward felonies. He left open the very issues we discuss all the time when we consider why people commit crime–perhaps it is poverty generated; perhaps it is a problem of single-parent homes (and especially the absence of fathers, which suggests to boys that abdicating parental responsibility and fatherly guidance is a norm); perhaps it is a deficient education; perhaps it is an amalgam of many factors.

The salient point here is that Bennett did not purport to resolve why the black crime rate is high. And he most assuredly did not suggest that it is high because of something immanent in the black condition.

He was merely dealing with life as we find it. And that, of course, holds forever open the possibility that if the conditions inducing people to behave a particular way were changed, their behavior, too, would change. And that applies regardless of your racial background.

Bluntly, Bennett did not come close to saying black people were hardwired to commit crimes. To the extent he is being pilloried for having said or implied such a thing, such criticisms are ill-informed at best, and in many cases willfully dishonest.

You want to say Bennett could have picked a better example? Fine. But realize you’ll be demanding an impossible standard if you want talk radio to be honest, and frank, and courageous enough to deal with the topics political correctness and the mainstream media want banished from civilized discourse. Which is to say, topics that depart from the “conventional wisdom” they seek to script.

But if you’re going to criticize the example he articulated, at least deal with it on its own true terms. Bennett wasn’t offering an assessment of congenital “blackness,” so stop condemning him as if he were. He was dealing with life as it currently is–a life in which it is true not only that blacks commit crimes at a rate higher than the national average but that blacks are more likely to be victimized by crime than any other identifiable group.

If we are ever going to move forward, we are going to have to deal a lot more with the validity of what people actually say, and a lot less with the bogeymen we like to imagine they mean.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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