Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Bennett Controversy

I have to say, nothing eases my mind more than a rich, middle-aged white man assuring me that the comments of another rich, middle-aged white man were not in fact racist. Whew! What a load off there. Pass another wine cooler and the clam dip.

I just had to post on this subject after seeing the remarkable video of Fox News’ Brit Hume and The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol explaining to NPR’s Juan Williams (who is black) why former education William Bennett’s comments about aborting black babies to lower the crime rate were not in fact racist. Thanks to Crooks and Liars for posting it (and many of the other videos linked below).

You can read and hear Bennett’s comments here at Media Matters for America if you haven’t encountered them already. Now, in Bennett’s defense, he was speaking off the cuff and these were not planned remarks. And, he condemns the idea that he invokes, which as Kristol observes is using the classic debate technique of reductio ad absurdum. However, his choice of example remains deeply insensitive. I was rather stunned reading his words, much as I was when I heard Trent Lott’s infamous remarks praising Strom Thurmond— my god, did he really say that? Am I hearing this out of context? I must have misheard him... But in Bennett’s case, I also had to wonder — what possible context would excuse them?

Is Bennett a raging racist? No. Do his comments reveal some racist attitudes? You betcha. I think that’s a fair charge, and it’s fair to challenge him for his comments and demand an apology.

As to the Fox News clip, you can see it here. You’ll notice Kristol ducks the direct question about whether he thinks Bennett’s comments were offensive — gutless. Meanwhile, Brit Hume charges that the real problem is that the left has seized upon these comments and blown things out of proportion. (Remember, the problem is not racism, it’s the damn left making a big deal out of it.) At one point someone asks if Bennett should apologize and there’s a loud, somewhat irate “why?” that sounds like it’s from Hume, who’s cut to next, seemingly peeved at all these foolishness. I just had to laugh in horror at the whole spectacle, feeling for poor Williams. The man is clearly upset and frankly, has every right to be.

If Bennett apologizes, fine, move on — but he hasn’t, so please, conservatives, stop being apologists for his refusal to apologize. When one considers that this very conservative White House has already condemned Bennett’s comments, you’ve got the cover to do the right thing, unless, like Hume, you really don’t see anything wrong with Bennett’s comments.

Several years ago an official was fired (and later re-hired) for using the word “niggardly” at a press conference, because some people mistakenly thought the word had a racist origin. It doesn’t. That was a case of political correct oversensitivity. In contrast, the Bennett incident, while not an earth-shaker, deserves some attention.

There’s no doubt that in polite society, at least, being called a racist is one of the worst labels imaginable. It’s not something to be tossed off blithely. But telling a black person, yet alone any person of conscience, he shouldn’t be offended by Bennett’s remarks — now that’s offensive.


Crooks and Liars has another staggering Fox News clip featuring John Gibson’s defense of Bennett, which is that Bennett wasn’t talking about the crime rate, he was instead bemoaning the abortion rate among blacks. Huh? He goes on:

Gibson: I think liberals are worried that blacks are going to start worrying about abortion...liberals don't want blacks thinking about abortion because they don't want those people peeling away from the support from abortion which is a liberal, sacred cow.

Please, please, why give this guy a mike? He’s clearly engaged in disingenuous bullshit, he’s an idiot, or both. Rather than a balance of right and left, can we instead focus on having an imbalance of smart versus dumb? With the seething mass of conservative commentators out there, huddled and yearning to be paid, surely even Fox News can do better than John Gibson.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Bennett still had not apologized. In line with Hume:

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who has been reaching out to African Americans and other minorities, called Bennett's comments "regrettable and inappropriate." But Mehlman also lashed out at liberals whom he accused of engaging in racially divisive rhetoric when it suits their interests: "What's much worse is the hypocrisy . . . from the left."

I’m curious as to what racial hypocrisy Mehlman is talking about, but then, substance and logic have never been his strong points.

The same article ends with a quotation that many of the chattering class could take to heart:

Robert Woodson Sr., president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, said "it was stupid" for Bennett to even ruminate on such an explosive topic but defended him as a good man. "Sometimes intellectuals become detached from common sense," he said.

BONUS: Because you never can have enough conservative white boys lecturing black folks about race, here’s an older segment, if you’ve got the stomach, on race and Katrina. It’s the second item down, titled: “Mark Williams sinks to a new Low.” I’m much less worried about William Bennett than a bullying ignoramus and asshole like this (sorry, a politer term will not do for this guy). Remember: the louder and more self-righteous you are, the closer you must be to The Truth. In relation to my characterization above: Bennett made some racially insensitive remarks. Mark Williams is a racist.

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