PHOTO: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee this morning
A growing list of Congress Members are not just speaking out about Bill Bennett's recent racist remarks on his radio show. Some of them are pressuring the network that airs his show, Salem Radio Network, and asking the sponsors that fund it to withdraw their support. One already has. Other Congress Members are asking the Federal Communications Commission to censure, suspend, and fine Bennett.
If you've been wisely avoiding US mass media for the past week, you won't know that Bill Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education and "Drug Czar," and editor of "The Book of Virtues" (a collection aimed at showing how dumb ethics can become if you paste together the most boring excerpts of musings by mostly religious, mostly white, mostly dead, mostly male, mostly European authors) spouted off on his radio show on September 29 as follows:
BENNETT: ...one of the arguments in this book "Freakonomics" that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well
CALLER: Well, I don't think that statistic is accurate.
BENNETT: Well, I don't either, I don't think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don't know. But I do know that 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."
Note that this is Bennett's show. He is controlling the conversation. He's not being badgered into saying something hastily. He says he does not know whether abortions overall reduce crime, but that he knows that abortions of all black embryos would reduce crime. He notes first that this would be impossible, second that it would be ridiculous, and only third that it would be morally reprehensible. But clearly part of him does not think it would be morally reprehensible. And the part of him that does may lie primarily in a stance against abortions, not respect for the lives of black people. As the Black Commentator has noted, genocidal fantasies directed at African Americans are not new or rare. Bennett obviously has secrets and sicknesses outside of what he does in Las Vegas. I think he could stand some rehab for racists.
It's important to note, though, that Bennett's claim is false and incoherent, not just offensive and inflammatory. To begin with, both imprisonment rates for those arrested, and arrest rates for those committing crimes are highly discriminatory. Congresswoman Diane Watson cites U.S. Department of Justice statistics. This post on Huffington Post cites analysis by the Justice Policy Institute. And, of course, the disparities are particularly extreme in that enormous area of U.S. crime: drug offenses. Is it fair to expect a former drug "Czar" to know anything about that?
We have no studies showing us that black Americans commit proportionately more crime than white Americans. However, if we did, it would still be very hard to find respected analysts who would claim that race was a direct cause of the higher crime rate. We know of many factors that do lead to more crime, most prominently poverty. But abortions for all poor people was not what popped into Bennett's disease-ridden skull.
Congressman John Conyers and 57 other Congress Members wrote a letter on September 30 to Salem Radio Network protesting Bennett's comments and requesting an explanation. (These members signed: Adam Smith, Grijalva, Tierney, Sherman, Baldwin, Pallone, Cleaver, Jackson Lee, Crowley, Larson, Lee, Meeks, Tauscher, Holt, Cardin, Schakowsky, Benny Thompson, McCollum, Al Green, Watson, Corrine Brown, Capuano, Farr, Van Hollen, Butterfield, Filner, George Miller, Lantos, Olver, Solis, Jesse Jackson Jr., Christensen, McDermott, Artur Davis, Stark, Julia Carson, Gutierrez, Payne, Fattah, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Towns, Kucinich, Lewis, Wynn, Meek, Bardallo, Honda, Serrano, Maloney, David Scott, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Becerra, Woolsey, Ford, Rangel, Velazquez.)
The President of the network, Greg Anderson, wrote back on October 4, but failed to apologize or to convey any sense of having understood what was offensive or inflammatory about Bennett's dirty stereotyping. Conyers wrote back on October 6, asking for a better reply. Meanwhile, Conyers has obtained a list of all the sponsors of Bennett's show, one of whom according to Conyers' office has already pulled out. Watch www.conyersblog.com for updates.
On October 7, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., filed a complaint with the FCC. "William Bennett should be censured, suspended, and fined by the Federal Communications Commission for his repugnant and highly offensive remarks," said Jackson Lee.
While some congress members believe that asking for suspension by the FCC would violate their commitment to freedom of speech, Congressman Jackson said, "Let me be clear: I support free speech. However, I do not believe that our public airwaves should be contaminated by speech that incites fear and perpetuates hate. African-Americans are not predisposed to illegal behavior. African-Americans are not inherently criminal. As the author of Freakonomics, the book Bennett was discussing at the time of his statement, has said, 'criminality does not come with genes.'"
I still remember the FCC getting very worked up about a "wardrobe malfunction." This complaint will be a good test of which is more offensive, a tit or genocidal fantasies.
Jackson Lee and Jackson Jr. held a press conference this morning on Capitol Hill, together with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Congresswoman Diane Watson. I spoke on behalf of Progressive Democrats of America, and representatives of the Children's Defense Fund and Links Inc. spoke as well.