Friday, September 30, 2005

The White House yesterday criticized former Education Secretary William Bennett for saying that “you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.”

“The president believes the comments were not appropriate,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman also denounced the comments as “regrettable” and “inappropriate,” but said the party will not be deterred in its efforts to expand its base within the black community.

“The other side has nothing but scare tactics,” Mr. Mehlman said. “One side offers solutions and the other side offers scare tactics and insults, and I am confident the American people will take solutions every time.”

The former education secretary, who now hosts a daily radio talk show, said Wednesday 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.”

Before he made the remarks to a caller, Mr. Bennett referred to the book “Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. The authors claim that legalized abortion has reduced crime rates, arguing that the aborted fetuses were in many cases going to grow up in poor or single-parent homes, making them more prone to commit crime.

Mr. Bennett yesterday issued a statement about the furor.

“A thought experiment about public policy, on national radio, should not have received the condemnations it has. Anyone paying attention to this debate should be offended by those who have selectively quoted me, distorted my meaning, and taken out of context the dialogue I engaged in this week. Such distortions from ‘leaders’ of organizations and parties is a disgrace not only to the organizations and institutions they serve, but to the First Amendment,” he said.

Still, Democrats and civil rights groups pounced on the comments, charging that Mr. Bennett is racist.

Bruce S. Gordon, president for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Mr. Bennett, who was also the nation’s first drug czar under President George Bush, should apologize.

“In 2005, there is no place for the kind of racist statement made by Bennett,” Mr. Gordon said.

Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said: “The first inclination is not to dignify William Bennett’s comments with a response.

“However, it is obvious that these kinds of outrageous comments will continue unless there are economic consequences to those who make them. I, therefore, call on all radio station owners who carry Bill Bennett’s show to immediately terminate the show and if they fail to do so, I call on his sponsors and advertisers to withdraw their advertising dollars.”

A study last year by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics said that about 44 percent of state and federal prisoners in 2003 were black, 35 percent were white, 19 percent were Hispanic and 2 percent were of other races.

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