Powerline, predictably, is there to defend Bennett:
He was attempting, in other words, to attack a certain kind of inhumane utilitarian argument for abortion through the time-honored argumentative device of reductio ad absurdum. His thanks for this philosophical excursion comes in the form of howling by the usual suspects, Jesse Jackson, Nancy Pelosi, and so forth.This is a reasonable point, and Paul@Powerline goes on to commend some liberal bloggers for having picked up on it.
However, what's causing the more generalized howling isn't really the content of the argument, but the way it was framed. As Scott Shields over at MyDD puts it:
The hypothetical example that immediately popped into Bennett's head was based on a premise equating black people with criminals. He could have made a similar example of aborting the male fetuses of upper-class white families to reduce the rate of child molestation. And as he pointed out on the show, likely having realized that his example was an incredibly insensitive one, "[o]ne could just as easily have said you could abort all children and prevent all crime to show the absurdity of the proposition."On this point, I have to agree but disagree as well. Like Bennett's original statement, it's technically true but jumps to conclusions which aren't necessarily supported by the facts. Bennett's boneheaded assertion doesn't need to have been motivated by some bias harbored deep in his soul. The fact that those words popped into his head can be attributed just as easily to the fact that the race issue is back on the front burner since the controversy surrounding NOLA. It's on everybody's mind, even if we don't talk about it.
And at the end of the day, what needs to be understood is that Bennett's comments were outrageous because they were intended to be. He was responding to a suggestion in Freakonomics that reduced crime rates could be linked to increased abortion rates. When judging his statement, it must be taken into account that he's starting from the premise that every fertilized egg is a complete human being. When you start from that premise, arguing that abortion reduces crime is on a par with defending genocide.
Bennett made a clumsy attempt to counter the abortion-crime argument with an argument that he knew would be equally outrageous to most reproductive-rights advocates. And he flubbed it. Turning the debate over Bennett's comments into a racial one isn't going to get us anywhere. Better to acknowledge that Bennett's comments were just idiotic, that he put his foot in it, and move on -- and maybe even start talking about the fundamental difference in worldviews that leads to this sort of ridiculous episode, though that's probably too much to ask.
JimK puts it very well:
He never should have said what he said, and once it came out of his mouth he should have said "Ok, sorry, I was being a dick and I thought I could make the hypothetical work. It was a stupid thing to say. Sorry."I honestly don't know how far an on-the-spot apology would have gone in staving off the furor Bennett's comments caused, but this would have been the most appropriate thing short of not having uttered them in the first place.
Finally: Brad DeLong, one of the liberal bloggers Powerline praised for defending Bennett, sums up the moral of the story pretty well, I think:
Never attempt a reductio ad absurdum argument on talk radio. You can't keep exact control over your phrasing in real time, and so somebody is bound to think you are endorsing the horrible absurdity that you are rejecting.
(And, while we're at it: never get involved in a land war in Asia; do not read My Pet Goat when death is on the line; never play poker with a man named 'Doc'; never accept a battle of wits where iocane powder is a factor; never blithely download and install a file from Microsoft without carefully, carefully researching what it will do beforehand; never get involved in an argument over Noam Chomsky; and never post about human genetics on you weblog.)