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October 01, 2005

More than Words- Bennett was Wrong

Armando at Daily Kos is outraged that Brad Delong and Matt Yglesias are offering a qualified defense that Bill Bennett did not have genocidal tendencies when he declared "you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."

Even if Bennett was dismissing such an argument as immoral, Armando's point is that such words resonate in a country where racism has been continually justified with such arguments. To say, as Bennett EXPLICITLY did say, that a eugenics program would be effective endorses the factual basis of racist eugenics programs. That he steps back and says it would be wrong still makes the argument dangerous and repulsive.

Because what is wrong with his statement is that he makes an unproven statement of supposed FACT that is racist in its core assumptions. Blacks are convicted of disproportionately more crime than whites, but they also exist in a specific marginal economic position in American society. Partly, it's that they commit more crimes because of their poverty, but partly it's that their activities are criminalized at a higher rate than parallel activities of non-blacks. The difference in conviction rates and prison sentences for crack cocaine versus powder if merely the most dramatic.

Remove the black population and that does not mean poverty disappears -- not only are other groups likely to find themselves in a similar marginalized economic position to fill that position in an economy without full employment, but the driving pulse of racism would likely scapegoat them through criminalization of their chosen drug use or other activities to reinforce that marginalization.

Class in society in ecological. Different racial groups may be forced into disproptionate populations within a particular class position, but that doesn't mean eliminating that racial group will eliminate that ecological class position.

Modern anti-semitism was partly related to a history that denied Jews entrance to a range of craft and professional careers, meaning that certain kinds of marginal finance-related professions were the main means of advancement for successful Jews. In fact, in an emerging capitalist system that needed finance capital yet had moral qualms about "usury", having a despised minority like the Jews play the role of moneylender was economically and culturally useful.

But the illusion of certain kinds of anti-semitism, much like Bennett's genocidal fantasy, was that if you removed the racial group occupying a class position, you could eliminate the immorality of capitalist society associated with the activities of that group. But of course someone else will step into any similar position, since modern society created the ecological niche.

Bennett was reacting to the argument in the book Freakanomics that abortion a generation ago correlated with a drop in crime today, but the fact that he would construe it as a racist correlation reflects his own racism. The implication of Freakanomics is far more basic: that unwanted children are less likely to grow up in a supportive home and no doubt more likely to be abused. Eliminating unwanted pregnancies correlates with a happier life for the children who are brought to term and thus to less crime in our society. That makes race irrelevant to the analysis.

But that kind of analysis is very threatening to Bennett's anti-choice beliefs. So he needs to associate abortion with black genocide-- a nice wink to the beliefs of the racist right while stirring up fears in the black population. Bennett then decries the immorality of his own proposal.

But it's a cynical manipulation of racist rhetoric to divert attention from the core issue at the heart of the abortion debate.

Some people may honestly believe that it's better to force women to bring children to term, no matter how much they don't want to and however much that means they are more likely to abuse or neglect such children and encourage greater crime in the overall society. It's not an unreasonable moral position, but that's the position of the anti-choice side that folks like Bennett are trying to obscure by racist rhetoric.

Posted by Nathan at October 1, 2005 10:00 AM