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In The Middle: Bill Bennett

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From: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right
To: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left
Subject: Bill Bennett

Let’s talk about Bill Bennett. He’s in a lot of trouble right now for saying, “…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.” People are calling for his head, and it seems to be unpopular to defend the man. After all, he’s a “family values” man revealed to be a high-stakes gambler, and he defended that hypocrisy when it was exposed, rather than own up to it. Who wants to defend the racist hypocrite?

Still, I’ll stick up for the guy, because it seems like most people aren’t reading anything more than the sentence I’ve quoted, and are missing the entire point of the discussion. Alternatively, they’re wanting to impose thought-crime, which is horrifying to me.

What do you think?

From: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left
To: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right

My take is that it was an incredibly silly, inane thing to say and I’m sure Bennett wouldn’t say it again (in public) if he had the chance. Very likely it was just a matter of an incredibly poor and impolitic choice of example: stop a segment of the population from reproducing, and the crime rate will drop. Well sure, but the same would be true for white people, residents of Topeka, Kansas, left-handed folk and on and on!

So that’s one side. But I’m also sympathetic to those who see a pattern by this administration and its supporters. Is it a pattern of racism? I don’t think so, but I could accept the argument of someone who might contend that some of our leaders — particularly those who consider themselves “moral leaders” — are not innately connected to the concerns and of those parts of society that are the neediest and most helpless.

Consider, as another example, Barbara Bush, mother of George W. Bush and former First Lady, on how the victims of Katrina are “making out real well” in Texas. Of course, I believe that everything in American society and public life is and should be viewed through the spectrum of the failures of Katrina.

A catastrophic result of a long standing pattern of neglect of our neediest and most vulnerable citizens?

I think it’s a fair question to ask, but leave it to me on any topic and I’m sure to go Big Picture on you sooner or later!

From: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right
To: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left

I agree that Bennett probably wishes he could take it back. But I also wonder if this is another example of over-reaction on the part of those who want to see a pattern of racism in an Administration where it doesn’t exist, combined with simple ignorance.

Consider the example a few years ago of the politician who decried his opponents in a budget battle as “niggardly.” He was nearly run out of town on a rail by people who simply didn’t know what the word meant and jumped to incorrect conclusions about etymology.

Similarly, I wonder how many people attacking Bennett have ever read Freakonomics or know anything about the chapter under discussion by Bennett when he made the remarks. The chapter specifically posits that the crime rate in America has gone down because of the availability of abortion, and that those most likely to seek abortions are the poorest and most likely to have their babies grow up and commit criminal acts. The issue of race is raised within the book! It isn’t — as some people are suggesting — the first thing that floated through Bennett’s head because he sees everything as a race issue.

Barbara Bush’s remarks were even more unwise, both because they were more direct and because of the timing. But I’m bothered about living in a society in which people can’t even utter ideas or think thoughts without these attacks pouring in.

Bennett also went on to say that aborting all black babies would be “an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do,” and also explained that “immoral policies are wrong because they are wrong, not because of an economic calculation.”

Those comments, I think, should be used to help understand the previous comment, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Apparently nobody is allowed to think — even when discussing a book that lays out a case on the subject — that anybody other than white people are capable of committing a crime.

By the way, the truth is that the crime rate would rise if you aborted all white babies, because — for whatever reason — black people commit more crimes per capita than white people. I think it is important to recognize that crime in this country has a color, a socio-economic level, a gender, and so on. How can we work to reduce crime if we don’t focus on the reasons for it? How can we focus on the reasons for it if we ignore the simply fact that black males are more likely to commit crimes than white males?

If someone not associated with the Bush administration or the Republican party had said the same thing, I don’t think there would have been the outcry we’ve seen. Freakonomics itself suggested much the same thing, and didn’t get nearly the same response.

From: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left
To: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right

You raise a great many good and interesting points, Phillip.

Yes, there is likely some truth to an overreaction to Bill Bennett’s comments. But I’m glad that you at least imply that his words were, to put it lightly, unwise. And taken out of context — which is the norm in American political life, let’s face it — the words “black babies” and “lower crime rate” and “abortion” are downright damning.

And yes, it does matter that these unwise words were uttered by a white, conservative leader who professes to be a pillar of Virtue (when he’s not selling his Virtuous tomes or dancing with the one-armed lady).

Why does it matter? Because, as you’ve very rightly stated, race and class very much do matter in America 2005, even if no one really wants to talk about. As I discussed (as many others have) in my recent piece, “New York, New Orleans, Our Country, and Everything Else,” one of the potentially positive upshots from the disaster of Hurricane Katrina is that we can start to have a real dialogue about the most neglected and vulnerable in our society.

Now, in my view, your assertions about black versus white crime rates get us into murky territory. And what I mean by murky is, in no particular order: the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, racial profiling, racism, mandatory sentencing laws for crack (a “black” drug) versus cocaine (a “white” one), police brutality, and on and on.

Do some black people break the law? Absolutely, as do those of other color hues. But I think it’s very problematic to assert that, statistically speaking, blacks commit more crimes than whites without entering into a much more detailed and complex conversation.

So there were real scabs that Bennett unwittingly picked at with his unwise and poorly chosen words. And that’s why it mattered, again, what Bennett looks like and what he purports to stand for.

From: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right
To: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left

The funny thing about statistics is that they don’t lie. People will quote Mark Twain, but the numbers are what the numbers are. The problem is that when we seek to find meaning in statistics, we bring our own biases to the table. That’s where the lies come in.

It is no lie to state that black people are implicated as perpetrators in more crimes per capita than white people. That is easily verifiable based on crime reports and arrest records. The questions are what that means for America, and whether that is the most useful statistic when attempting to understand crime. I think that skin color is probably much less of a factor overall than wealth, and the big cities are a big factor, and so on, but I am terrified to think that we’ve entered into a brave new world in which white people aren’t allowed to notice or think about statistically verifiable facts. On a purely factual basis, Bennett’s statement was true. On a policy basis, he was arguing against such a policy, whether applied to black babies or anyone else. How then do we find reason to attack him, if not for “thinking wrong thoughts?”

How do we know about problems racial profiling and mandatory sentencing laws for different drugs, except that we can look at the numbers? How is your reference to which drugs are popularly associated with which skin colors that much different from Bennett’s observation? If we want to say that only black people can use “the N-word,” I can understand that. But to say that a white person can’t even engage in non-accusatory public discussion of the premise of a popular book goes beyond the pale, in my view. It’s Orwellian thoughtcrime!

Taken out of context, as you say, of course Bennett’s statements are damning. Taken out of context, your description of crack cocaine as a “black” drug is also damning. That’s why we shouldn’t take statements out of context.

We agree that race and class still matter in today’s America. We agree that Bennett probably regrets his words. We agree that nobody should view skin color as the only factor when examining America’s crime problem.

What I don’t understand is the accusation that this is what Bennett was doing, and what bothers me is the implied idea that white people cannot discuss race at all. Bennett (and Levitt and Dubner before him) provided us with a chance to enter into a much more detailed and complex conversation about race and crime and poverty, and instead it seems that partisan politics dictates personal attacks.

What’s the point of a detailed and complex conversation if people who hate you because of your skin color or your political party are going to ignore it all and grab the soundbite that makes you look bad anyway?

I started this conversation, so I’ll let you have the last word!

From: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left
To: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right

I agree that too often there’s a tacit agreement in public discourse to ignore the issue of race. It’s easy to enter into this agreement, because talking about race is complicated as hell. Look at the news media – I can think of more than one broadcaster who was fired for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. The result is a chilling effect with regard to this issue, this sticky fact of American life that runs down to the core of our collective history.

This is why race remains such a ripe topic for comedy, and particularly for black comics. From Red Skelton and Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock, we’ve looked to comedians and entertainers to allow race to enter the public domain. Great comedy comes from pain, it’s been said. And it also comes from truth: comedy helps to let some of the steam out of our self-imposed strictures.

That’s why — warts and all — I’ve always been a champion of radio legend and self-proclaimed King of All Media Howard Stern. By letting kooks and racists on the air, he exposes the very worst of America and provides the forum in which he can examine and laugh at it, and in effect defeat it. When Stern hosts a stupid but funny game like Black Jeopardy (where black contestants answer questions about “black culture”) he’s really in effect celebrating diversity, instead of partitioning ourselves into race- and culture-based cubicles as often is the case in our politically correct age. As is generally known, black people love Stern; it’s a select number of white elites who tend to have a problem with his show.

In any event, I think we do agree in many ways on this story, Phillip. I think Bennett was unwise but not malicious in his choice of words, and I think the reaction was probably too harsh, if understandably so from certain vantage points.

I think race is still a tinderbox issue in America, ready to flare up at any time.

Talking about race in a reasonable and open minded way is a good thing, I think. A good start.

In The Middle is an attempt to focus more on what unites us than what divides us. Can two reasonable people from opposite ends of the political spectrum put aside partisanship and meet in the middle? We think so. A topic is picked, e-mails are exchanged, and the results are published here.

In The Middle is a Blogcritics experiment. We’re trying to talk about things civilly, and we strongly request that all commenters do the same. We seek polite comments and questions, not ideological rhetoric or personal attacks.

Be passionate, think before you write, respect others, and have fun!

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About pwinn

  • Let the experiment begin!

  • Let’s get it on!

  • Now, *that’s* what I’m talking about!

    Possibly the best thing I’ve read on BC, ever. Well written, reasoned, and much more like something from a *proper* newspaper, rather than a half-assed Blogosphere version.

    Well done Phillip/Eric, long may they continue…

  • Wow, thanks very much Greg!

  • Excellent!

    There is far more to be gained by you two holding this debate, than by having just one of you post on a topic and then watch the comments spin out of control.

    Thank you gentlemen! I enjoyed it, learned quite a bit, and didn’t miss the partisan squabbling at all!

  • And that coming from a Bennett!

    Outstanding, thanks very much!

  • The numbers of Americans who lived under segregation and still living are getting smaller. Being one,-am doing a book on the issues of race. Probable title–“Why do you keep bringing up the Race issue’—-. Keep it up.—I smell some possible material in this blog. Let me know if you wish to be quoted. Am really happy that we had overactive,law making judges on the Supreme Court for the abolition of slavery. My grandfather was one.(slave)

  • Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer talks about the importance of “active liberty” in looking at the cases before the Supreme Court. For example, the founders never could have imagined that there would be things like the Internet, satellite radio, etc. etc. to be dealt with.

    And as George Carlin points out (among others), our founding fathers were slave owners who declared that all men are created equal!

    So the importance of looking at the Constitution as a living, breathing document is paramount in my view.

    I’m sure others disagree, but that’s the sloppy joy of living in a democracy, isn’t it?

  • Baronius

    “Am really happy that we had overactive,law making judges on the Supreme Court for the abolition of slavery.”

    We didn’t. We had overactive Supreme Court justices who prevented the abolition of slavery, let by Chief Justice Taney. He wildly overstepped his authority in the Dred Scott desicion, but it’s next to impossible to overturn a Supreme Court decision. It was only through constitutional amendment that we were able to end slavery.

    Lincoln is often mocked for his Emancipation Proclamation freeing only the Confederates’ slaves. In truth, the Commander-in-Chief only had the authority to free slaves in a war zone. He couldn’t free the Yankee slaves.

    Eric, beware of a living Constitution: it’s what Taney used. Clinton: if you’re going to write a book about the history of segregation, you should get to know the role the courts have played, for good and ill.

  • If this ever catches on, Chris Matthews and a whole lot of other alleged journalists are out of a job.

  • Excellent dialogue, guys (and a fine specimen of leading by example). I hope to see more!

  • Excellent points, Baronius — you’re right on and I stand corrected.

    Thanks DJR and Lisa!

  • Sorry, I can’t see defending Bennet on this. Dude has a series of books on virtues: has a virulent gamlbing problem and some supressed race issue.

    so do most of the people I know. However, we aren’t writing books on virtue, either.


  • Baronius

    Lono, can only good people write about virtue? How severe is Bennett’s gambling problem? Is gambling immoral? Did Bennett ever write about gambling in his books about virtue? What evidence, other than Bennett calling eugenics morally reprehensible, do you have that he has a race problem?

  • I was in the process of asking everyone to try and put Bennett’s background aside when considering this issue… when I realize I made a central point about the fact that Bennett’s moral certitude makes him all the more vulnerable to criticism!

    And you know, it does. Just watching Hardball tonight and Chris Matthews said, “The higher they are, the harder they fall.”

    That said, I stand by the mixed feelings I expressed above!

  • You can recognize virtue and realize that you don’t entirely live up to it yourself and still admire it. Sometimes we promote what we strive for rather than what we’ve achieved, and that’s admirable. My take on the Book of Virtues is a bit different, however. I see it as thinly veiled and very manipulative Christian propaganda, at least that’s how the Saturday morning cartoon version came off when I used to watch it with my eldest when she was quite small. Very preachy stuff.

    As for Bennett, having read his remarks and knowing something of his background as basically a right of center relatively moderate guy, I look with great suspicion on those who want to make this into a racial issue. The comment was unsubtle, but clearly not intended to be racist. If someone comes to it and reaches the conclusion that Bennett is a racist because of it, then that makes me immediately question their own judgement. They are either part of the campaign to smear Bennett and all conservatives as racist, or they are so blinded by their own assumptions that they can’t see anything but what they expect to see in what he said. They’re the same people who are calling Bill Cosby an Uncle Tom. I just can’t take them very seriously.


  • There was a Book of Virtues cartoon?

  • Yes, and it sucked, as I suggested earlier. It’s probably available on DVD. I will give it credit for including both virtuous pagan and christian stories and at least attempting to preserve some stories from Ovid and other Greek and Roman writers.


  • But was there a Book of Virtues “card game such as Texas Hold Em” set? That’s the real question.

    PS – Apparently the name of the popular card game is a banned word. Phillip, Eric… ??? It killed my joke, man! The things we have to do to protect against spam.

  • Sorry, DJ, but poke with an r appended is indeed a banned word. 🙁

  • Lono (#13), no I think your comment is roughly the antithesis of fair. A fair reading of Bennett wouldn’t ascribe to him a suppressed race issue without more evidence than we’ve been given.

    He’s hypocritical on gambling, unquestionably. Does hypocrisy in one area of life immediately disqualify a person from holding opinions in any other area? These comments would be amazingly empty if that were true.

    I’m a Christian homeschooler who wouldn’t use Bennett’s k12.com for anything, and don’t like his “Book of Virtues” much either. His “Book of Heroes,” however, is pretty good for my purposes. I happen to think that even people with gambling problems and a dose of hypocrisy can capably edit books.

  • Use your southern drawl and call it ‘Pokah, Suh”.


  • I should also say that I’ve never heard the man’s radio show, and can’t comment on it.

  • Maurice

    You guys have won my heart. Very nice job of analysis on both sides. As a black man (with a white wife) I will be glad when race is no longer discussed. There will be a day when we will all refer to ourselves as people.

    One last thought. I encounter more raised eyebrows from people looking at my oldest son (profoundly mentally and physically handicapped) than I do from people looking at my white wife.

  • Maurice, do you live in a reasonably big city? In my experience, overt racism is generally a bigger problem in smaller towns than big cities.

  • Dave, that’s not a bad idea! Of course, I am a transplant to the south and my wife thinks my mock southern accent is the funniest (and worst) accent she has ever heard. =)

    PokeHer where?

  • Maurice

    I live in Boise Idaho. Moved here from Detroit 10 years ago. There is virtually no racism that I can detect in Boise. Detroit on the other hand….

  • Interesting, Maurice. And good news for a good friend of mine who just moved to Boise. We worried quite a bit about his move to a slightly smaller city (not that Boise is tiny), but so far he’s reported the same as you.

  • Eric Olsen

    super super job, men – a real turning point for the site and the tone of our politicla coverage.

    We are looking for information and considered opinion, not propaganda

  • a real turning point for the site and the tone of our politicla coverage.

    I would spend more time in the politics section if that turns out to be true.

  • This site is somewhat unique in bringing together people from both left and right. This is in stark contrast with most popular political blogs, which are often echo chambers for right or left.

    We have squandered this unique opportunity for too long, and are looking to make this a better place.

    It starts here.

  • Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming- ooops, sorry, I thought that was my cue. 🙂

    Count me in.

  • Phillip — I can imagine those words being uttered by an iconic action film star (Will Smith? Harrison Ford?) at that moment in the movie when you know the good guys are going to bust forth with the whoop-ass in Act III!

  • EB, I had the “Animal House”-Belushi scene in mind.

  • Yep… even better!

  • G: Oren

    Kudos to you both for an excellent and civil exchange – and enlightening subsequent posts.

    Trying to objectively assess real problems, especially those that face us with regards to our underclass, and discuss if or how to respond to those problems is the basis for real political solutions.

    Regurgitated bile and ad hominem attacks – however clever in construct – cannot replace honest debate and discussion. Again, good post and good site.

  • Thanks, G. Eric B is picking next week’s topic, so be sure to check back for that, and look for “In The Middle,” which should be on all our posts.

  • Dan

    “He’s hypocritical on gambling, unquestionably.”

    No he’s not. You may consider gambling non-virtuous, but he doesn’t. It’s recreational for him, and he can afford it.

  • Some might say that Bennett avoided the charge of hypocrisy by specifically not listing gambling as a vice in his writings. That’s a valid viewpoint, I suppose.

    At the same time, whether one can afford it or not, gambling is generally recognized as a vice, especially when your losses exceed eight million dollars. The silent ommission is itself somewhat hypocritical, I think.

    Better would have been to explain how restraint is a virtue, and being careful to gamble only money you can afford to lose is virtuous. Before he was caught, I mean, not just after.

  • Dan

    I don’t think he would argue that “being careful to gamble only money you can afford to lose is virtuous.” Unless your money is going to a charity.

    It’s simply a non-issue.

    The reason gambling is generally recognized as a vice, and not as recreational entertainment, is because some folks gamble money they can’t afford to lose. Not him. He can afford to lose 8 mill.

    I don’t think his book was titled “Be like Bill Bennett”, but if it was he probably would have included a chapter that emphazized how restraint in recreational gambling is a good way to go. Of course it’s hard for us regular people to understand how dropping 8 is restrained, but then we don’t have all those other 100’s of million either.

    There’s really no case for hypocrisy here at all.

  • There’s a world of difference between saying, “I don’t think Bill Bennett is a hypocrite” and “There’s really no case for hypocrisy here at all.” The former is an opinion, the latter is simply false.

    I erred in saying he was “unquestionably” a hypocrite. I was attempting to respond to a commenter that felt far more strongly about the subject than I do, and let my comment reflect that too much. I should have said “arguably” instead of “unquestionably.”

  • Yes, he’s arguably hypocritical.

    And I would argue that he is!

    It’s amazing how many “moral leaders” live their life in a Do What I Say, Not What I Do mode.

  • this was an exceptional article right here. two folks from (reasonably) differing political leanings meetin to discuss something in a civilised, intelligent manner. Articles like this are a hell of a lot more likely to encourage that old “thinking” carry-on than a buncha rabid snarls back and fourth cross a forum. Great work Phil and Eric, look forward to future instalments.

  • Also, i’ll add that the format, the to- from – tomfoolery, is inspired.

  • Thanks, Duke. I don’t want to get into some weird self-congratulatory fit here, but since this is the inaugural event in the series, I suppose such comments are both inevitable and very welcome.

    Of course, it’s all fun and games and civilized until someone really disagrees with your favorite political topic, so we’ll see how future columns go. 🙂

  • I’ll add to the accoldades .

    Bravo! Good sirs. Well done, exceptional, etc.

  • troll

    In the name of trolls everywhere I say this is the worst idea – writing – and commenting ever

    stop messing with my breakfast ‘bitch slappin’ – what good’s my coffee without a shot of vitriol – you both suck

    take your comity off my bridge


  • First of all, Bennett’s statement was patently false because it was a generalization that was not based upon provable fact.

    The “crime rate” is an undeterminable number because it’s:

    A) Based upon REPORTED crime, and not total crimes committed, which is an unknowable number.

    He placed a genetic component to crime, which doesn’t explain non-black perpetrators.

    Straight up, the man’s heart was exposed in all of this, and I for one am happy to see the scales pulled away from some eyes.


  • Cobra, would you like for your “heart [to be] exposed” to the world based on one out-of-context statement? Neither would I.

    The “crime rate” is a popular term and obviously only includes reported crime. In fact, it generally counts arrests for criminal acts.

    Are you suggesting that 60% of criminal acts committed by white people result in no arrest, while every single criminal act committed by black people does? In 2003, there were 6.7 million arrests of white people. Roughly 10.7 million more arrests of white people that year (and no more arrest of black people) would be needed to bring the numbers in line with the general population.

    I definitely believe that the American criminal justice system is biased against black people, but I have a hard time accepting that 60% of crimes committed by whites result in no arrest, or that more than half of arrests of black people are done for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

    And again, they were discussing Freakonomic, a book which posits the theory — based on statistical evidence — that the legalization of abortion in 1973 was the primary cause of the drop in the crime rate beginning in the early 1990s. As I’ve said before, the conclusions could be false, but the underlying statistics are valid and indisputable: the crime rate did begin to drop 18-20 years after the legalization in abortion. The crime rate did begin to drop in states which had legalized abortion prior to Roe v Wade before the rest of the country. And so on.

    Levitt and Dubner spend 30 pages laying out their case, and Bennett spent a few minutes protesting against it. Whether one agrees with Levitt and Dubner or not, the issue of race was introduced by them, not by Bennett. The evidence in this incident simply does not support the assertion that Bennett’s “heart” or thoughts are racist, and his statement — within the context supplied by Levitt and Dubner — was factually true, though obviously (as he pointed out himself) not a proscription for policy.

  • Phillip’s brought up Freakonmics several times, so I just wanted to add, on a separate note, that it makes sense — outside of the race component — that overall crime has dropped in part because of Roe v. Wade.

    That statement, and abortion in general, can easily make up the basis for a new column.

    In other news: Troll gets the Good Word award for his use of “comity.”

    And thanks again all for the kind words!

  • The “Roe Effect,” as some call it, is certainly a theory to be reckoned with, though obviously Bill Bennett and many others find it incredibly offensive from the get-go. It (and abortion) would certainly make for some interesting columns!

    Of course, I keep bringing the book up because that was the context in which Bennett was speaking, and any consideration of Bennett’s statements outside of the context of that book and that theory misses the whole point. If it were not a copyright violation, I’d type up the contents of all 30 relevant pages, but in the meantime, people really need to read the book before wading in boldly.

    I’ll add the book to the Amazon listing in the post; I can’t believe I forgot to do that!

  • I’ve read from many different quarters that the book is an interesting read. If I wasn’t up to the eyeballs in projects / stuff, I might even make it to the bookstore to have a look!

  • ::cough::amazon::cough::

    It is a good book. The statistics are first-rate, though I don’t always agree with their conclusions. Highly recommended.

  • What I meant by bookstore was virtual bookstore and what I meant by virtual bookstore was Amazon…

    That came across, right?

  • Sure. 🙂

  • Dan

    “There’s a world of difference between saying, “I don’t think Bill Bennett is a hypocrite” and “There’s really no case for hypocrisy here at all.” The former is an opinion, the latter is simply false.”

    Arguably, Phillip, your saying that my statement about there being “no case for hypocrisy” is “simply false” is simply your opinion as well.

    If Bennett were to write a book including subject matter on the evils of alchohol, then be “caught” enjoying a single glass of sherry before dinner, I suppose that would “arguably” constitute hypocrisy in some minds.

    I’m not meaning to be stubbornly contrary here Phillip. It’s big of you to concede that Bennett is not unquestionably hypocritical relative to his gambling proclivities. We can disagree on the arguability of that, without it being an impediment to focusing on more substanitive issues.

    Others are less willing. They lack the courage of objective reasoning.

    If Bennett says something controversial in the future, they will preface their arguments with: ‘Bill Bennett is a hypocritical gambling addict’, or ‘Bill Bennett said black babies should be aborted in order to reduce the crime rate’, or ‘Rush Limbaugh thinks blacks are too stupid to play quarterback’.

    Most of these people are unsalvageable. But I think it’s important for ignorant, but more reasoned readers to see these attacks challenged.

  • Actually, my statement was purely factual and not just a matter of opinion. Bear with me as I explain.

    I initially said that Bennett was “unquestionably” a hypocrite. You questioned that statement, rendering it false. Once falsified, I realized that it had been only opinion all along, and amended it to read “arguably.” That label is factual, since here we are, arguing it!

    Similarly, you said that “there’s really no case for hypocrisy,” but then I presented a case for hypocrisy, demonstrating the falseness of your statement. That’s not an opinion, it’s simply fact.

    You may not agree with the case I made, and that’s fine. But I did make a case, well or poorly.

  • Ah, the old actually factual tactic. Brilliant!

  • Dan

    The case you demonstrated for hypocrisy, Phillip, relied on the “general” perception that gambling is a vice. But, if Bennett doesn’t share that perception– which would seemingly be a necessary element to demonstrate hypocrisy– how would my “no case” statement be demonstrably false.

    Bennett doesn’t say don’t have a good time gambling away money that you can easily afford to lose. *That* would make him a hypocrite.

    In any event, Aren’t I permitted to be of the opinion that there is “no case”?

  • You’re arguing against the case I made for Bennett being hypocritical.

    Just think about that for a while. 😉

  • P.S. You are free to hold the opinion that there is no good case for Bennett being a hypocrite. The qualifier makes the statement subjective. As you’ve stated it, however, it is an objective statement subject to falsification, and I’ve falsified it.

  • In my view, Dan’s advancing the view that Bill Bennett engages in moral relativism… i.e. Of what are generally considered vices, don’t partake in vices a, b, and d.

    C) Gambling… is cool if it’s done with a relative percent of one’s disposable income, to be determined at later stated date.

    Now if that’s the case: fine. I just don’t want to have to wade through a whole book about some dude’s world view on morality.

  • Dan

    OK Phillip, you’ve got me. I did mean to say there is no *good* case. I get it now. There are infinite bad case’s.

    I do hope that my arguments have persuaded you that there is no good case…in this instance of Bennett’s losing the 8 mill. Perhaps there is a good case for his hypocrisy in another area. It would be fine with me, I don’t worship the man.

    I also don’t disagree with anything Eric say’s in comment #62. I would just add that it’s the nature of morality to be relative. If everyone agreed precisely on morality, there’d be no need for individuals to write books on the subject.

  • You haven’t quite convinced me there’s no good case, no. Sorry! But it’s definitely a gray area.

    If Bennett showed himself more willing to consider virtue as a sometimes-fuzzy issue, prone to grayness on occasion, he’d probably find fewer of his critics eager to (mis-?) identify vice in his life.

    It is Bennett’s self-appointed role as model of virtue that makes the gambling seem so… interesting.

    And yeah, it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that he has set himself up as a model of virtue, too. I’m aware of that. Oops!

    Thanks for the delightful conversation!

  • To those of a moderate-to-liberal stand on social issues, it’s a surprise that people listen to Moral Leaders at all.

    Think about it: Rush on drugs, Bill on gambling, televanglists on.. whatever, etc.

    In the larger sense, there seems to very much be a Do What I Say, Not What I Do mentality. Personally, I tune out publications such as The Book of Virtues as so much noise.

  • Your choice of examples is funny: People searched high and low of examples of Rush criticizing drug users in his many years of talk radio, and didn’t really find anything. So his supporters were able to claim, as Dan does for Bennett, than Rush wasn’t actually hypocritical.

    Actually, I think there was one statement in however many years of shows that was vaguely hypocritical, but still…

    Most people turning to books and moral teachers, I think, are parents trying to install good values into their children. Or they have a bad (in my opinion) understanding of Christianity, and think that is supposed to involve repetitive moral teaching.

    My view of morals compels me to teach my children that I believe: (1) there are moral absolutes, (2) the standard for these moral absolutes is objective and external, and (3) every single person in this world — including me — will screw things up, usually badly, usually repetitively.

    What I don’t understand is why anybody is surprised when people screw up. Famous people aren’t supposed to make mistakes like the rest of us? Ha!

  • Baronius

    It’s a very American phenomenon, this hatred of hypocrisy. I suspect it’s driven by a twisted version of democracy: that a person who espouses morals is putting himself above the crowd. When a leader or preacher falls from grace in another country, it’s regarded as sad or disappointing. In America, it’s a national holiday. Look! A hypocrite! And it’s not a recent thing either; remember The Scarlet Letter.

    An old rule within the Catholic Church is that, when considering the cause of a saint, writings are only used to detract. It’s assumed that a person’s writings should be good, but they’re never used as proof of a person’s sanctity. Writings can be used to show indecency, however.

    Should we only allow people to praise virtues that they possess? Admittedly, there’s something funny about a chubby priest given a sermon about self-sacrifice. But all of us should aspire to be better than we are. We shouldn’t apply a tougher standard to those who talk about virtue; we should be critical of those who don’t.

  • I think it has to do with where the pundit, scholar, preacher, intellectual, etc. is coming from. I think you’re right, Baronius, in saying that Americans don’t like someone who places him/herself above the crowd. That’s the crowd’s job! we want to say.

    In terms of Bennett and Rush, I think there’s a difference when we’re talking about someone who espouses to know something about moral values… enough so to the point that he or she must beseech the rest of us to follow along.

    I haven’t listened to Rush for many years, but surely he lauched daggers of disgust and indignation at Clinton throughout his presidency and especially during the Lewinsky scandal.

    People in public life are held to a higher standard. That’s kind of part of the deal in the United States. People in public life who tell others what they should do, think, or believe can and should be held to an even higher standard.

    That’s just part of the American psyche, I suppose. People who freely admit to being sinners and who just try and get along “like the rest of us” tend to, in my view, actually gain a moral highground (lowground, perhaps?).

  • volt

    bennett was merely expressing the republican party line. the party that only a few months ago decided it was time to give up the “southern strategy” after a few decades. in other words, the party claims that it is now, in 2005, giving up on race baiting.

    but that is surely window dressing. while bashing gays may be more benefiical than bashing blacks, the republicans will not do away with it completely. watch fox or listen to hannity or rush for an hour and you are bound to hear something racist. just last week i received marketing material from the national review magazine that was blatantly racist in its appeal. truly appalling.

    bennett has always been racist. just look at the policies he advocates. subsidizing the poor is inherently a bad thing while giving huge breaks to corporations is a good thing. and yes, whites own stock at a much higher rate than blacks and blacks are disproportionately poor. a real shocker.

    but everyone has an equal chance to succeed in america, or so we are told. right. its too bad bennett and the republicans never got around to reading savage inequalities many moons ago. then maybe we would invest a bit more money in bettering the education system and equalling the playing field and a bit less money subsidizing the rishest oil companies in the world.

  • Volt, wild accusations without foundation or support are exactly the sort of thing we want to see eliminated from this site. Always looking for the worst possible spin on things done by “the other party” while turning a blind eye to your own party is the very definition of ideological partisanship.

    Rather than outline the unprovable assumptions and baseless accusations in your comment one by one, I’ll just say that there are alternate explanations for everything you said, many or most of which fit the facts better than the explanations you chose.

  • troll

    Who first picked up on B’s statement – took it out of context (as B should have anticipated) – and made it such a big deal – ?

    just wondering


  • philip

    there is nothing i state that isn’t true. i do not mean to imply all republicans are racist, only that the party and its policies are racist.

    bush’s tax cut have benefitted only the super rich at the expense of everyone from the rich down. for example, the IRS reported last week that “Overall incomes rose by 2.7 percent in 2003, compared with the previous year, the I.R.S. said. A quarter of this increase went to the top tenth of 1 percent, the 129,000 taxpayers with reported incomes of $1.3 million or more, an analysis of the data showed.” Forgetting the disgusting statistic on its face, what percent of those 129,000 do you think are white and black?

    Or you can look at the White House response to Hurricane Katrina. Bush promised that no stone would be left unturned and that the city would be rebuilt no matter the cost. Yet, while the Halliburton’s of the world have already collected more than $50 billion in contracts, the city of New Orleans had to lay off 3,000 workers. That is racist.

    Let’s turn to the National Review sales material I just recieved. All four pages are filled with hate speech and are designed to get whites riled. Did you know that “every Ilsamoloony who attains his dream of martydom is one less problem for Western Civilization?” Or that the priesthood scandal is really about gays? And you why is it not a hate crime when a black man storms into a bar and shoots three people while screaming “white people burn tonight”? There is plenty more of this crap from one of the leading republican news magazines.

    hannity and rush spew that same kind of rhetoric daily. bennet shares the same beliefs but is a bit more careful and articulate so rarely gets into the trouble he finds himself in today.

    all i am doing is calling out the obvious truth. only when we stop giving hate mongers a stage will the hate stop. many agree with this policy in terms of religion. i extend that belief to politics as well. hate is hate.

    and as far as turning a blind eye to my own party, i did not realize that was the topic of conversation. surely the left has its problems and the entire system of governent is certainly broken, but the left is hardly the party of hate.

  • Volt/Philip, both political parties have a long history of doing the wrong things when it comes to race in America. Both parties have policies designed in inflame their base at the expense of others, also related to race. Both parties have currently-serving candidates who use race issues as political tools. Identifying only one of those parties, and doing so using inflammatory generalizations, does not contribute to solving the problem, but perpetuates the difficulties.

    Primarily your accusations involve introducing race into topisc in which it isn’t implicitly involved. Bush’s economic policies deserve consideration on their economic merits without regard to the race of the people who are the primary beneficiaries — unless you have evidence that race was a determining factor in setting those policies. (You don’t.)

    Blaming the President of the country for decisions made by the mayor of New Orleans is similarly reaching. Bush can keep or break his promises without regard to Mayor Nagin’s short-term decisions to keep his city solvent.

    And on and on it goes.

    It is very easy for people to assume the worst about “them” while assuming the best about “us,” but that doesn’t ever actually solve any problems. Using inflammatory indeological rhetoric amounts to “preaching to the choir,” and while it’s a favorite tactic of political fund-raisers, the rest of us don’t have to fall into the same trap. We could more effectively solve the race problem of both right and left by addressing the issues honestly and head-on, without rancor. And maybe — just maybe — actually change some minds that way.

  • Volt is absolutely correct here, but I would submit that the GOP hasn’t given up on the Southern Strategy, but wants to change the public relations aspect.

    >>>”It was called “the southern strategy,” started under Richard M. Nixon in 1968, and described Republican efforts to use race as a wedge issue — on matters such as desegregation and busing — to appeal to white southern voters.

    Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, this morning will tell the NAACP national convention in Milwaukee that it was “wrong.”…
    “By the ’70s and into the ’80s and ’90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out,” Mehlman says in his prepared text. “Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”


  • Late notice but,

    This post was chosen by the section editor as a BC pick of the week. Go HERE (link) to find out why.

    And thank you