The latest Bill Bennett kerfuffle leads us to think that the culture of political correctness that surrounds race in America may be in its final throes. Bennett and a caller to his radio show the other day were discussing a hypothesis in Steven Levitt's book "Freakonomics" (available from the OpinionJournal bookstore): that the explosion of abortion after Roe v. Wade depleted the number of potential criminals and thus helped reduce the crime rate. Bennett rejected such utilitarian pro-abortion arguments:
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.
The ragemongers at MediaMatters.org ginned up a controversy over Bennett's remarks, and the ritual expressions of outrage followed, as the Washington Post reports:
Bennett's comments . . . were quickly condemned by Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who issued a statement demanding that Bennett apologize. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) circulated a letter, signed by 10 of his colleagues, demanding that the Salem Radio Network suspend Bennett's show.
Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, demanded that the show be canceled.
"Bennett's statement is outrageous. As a former secretary of education, he should know better," Henderson said. "His program should be pulled from the air."
Today the White House joined in: "The president believes the comments were not appropriate," the Associated Press quotes press secretary Scott McClellan as saying.
But Bennett also has his defenders. One of them is the liberal journalist Matthew Yglesias:
Not only is Bennett clearly not advocating a campaign of genocidal abortion against African-Americans, but the empirical claim here is unambiguously true. Similarly, if you aborted all the male fetuses, all those carried by poor women, or all those carried by Southern women, the crime rate would decline. Or, at least, in light of the fact that southern people, poor people, black people, and male people have a much greater propensity to commit crime than do non-southern, non-black, non-poor, or non-male people that would have to be our best guess. The consequences, clearly, would be far-reaching and unpredictable, but the basic demographic and criminological points here can't be seriously disputed.
Keep in mind, too, that black leaders and liberal politicians constantly harp on the high incarceration rate of black Americans--so much so that John Kerry* was caught last year exaggerating it. Yet somehow it's considered invidious to point out that blacks, or black men at any rate, have a higher crime rate than nonblacks?
We can't help but wonder if part of the outrage over Bennett's remark isn't precisely his view that aborting black babies is immoral. After all, the official position of the Democratic Party is that abortion not only is not immoral but is a fundamental constitutional right, as long as the mother consents. And although MediaMatters claims that Levitt's argument has nothing to do with race, blogger Bob Krumm notes that in a 2001 paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Levitt and John Donohue expressly link black abortion to reduced crime:
Fertility declines for black women are three times greater than for whites (12 percent compared to 4 percent). Given that homicide rates of black youths are roughly nine times higher than those of white youths, racial differences in the fertility effects of abortion are likely to translate into greater homicide reductions.
In other words, whereas Bennett rejects the idea of reducing crime by aborting black babies, Levitt and Donohue argue that that is exactly what has happened over the past three decades, as a result of liberal policies. If they are right, there is, to say the least, a fundamental tension between blacks and pro-abortion feminists, two of the core components of the Democratic coalition. No wonder Bennett's comments have caused such discomfort on the left.
So why do we see this as a sign of political correctness's decline? Well, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we kept hearing from our liberal friends that what this country needs is an honest discussion of race. Of course, liberals who call for a discussion of race never actually want it to be honest. Rather, they want to engage in the old familiar ritual in which blacks air their grievances, white liberals trumpet their moral superiority, the rest of us shut up and listen, and dissenters are shamed and silenced (see John Conyers's and Wade Henderson's demands regarding Bennett, above).
Our sense, however, is that this old ritual no longer has the same power it once did, and that as a result, liberals actually are getting the honest discussion about race that they have long demanded. If so, their worst fears are coming true.
* A man so white, he looks French!
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