William J. Bennett
delivered on October 8, 2005 at the Bakersfield Business Conference
in Bakersfield, California)
I am called
upon to answer charges that should never have come up in the first
place. But such are the times in which we live, and sometimes
their level of dialogue.
I have been
slandered, defamed, misrepresented and libeled. I will not stand
for it. I will not go away, or go meekly and quietly into that
good night. Nor will I withdraw from the discussion. My entire
career has been one of taking on serious issues, I have taken
brickbats for that. I will continue to. Those who do not engage
in serious conversations about serious matters can lob their shots
at me. I can take them.
The topic is race, crime and abortion.
on my radio show, Morning In America, I was having a discussion
with a caller about good and bad arguments for and against abortion.
He said that if we aborted fewer babies, we would increase our
Social Security trust fund. I said that’s not how you want
to argue against abortion. In the course of this discussion, I
hypothesized another argument you don’t want to make, a
deliberately abhorrent argument for abortion—that the abortion
of black children would lead to a reduction in crime. I did so
to show why amoral or immoral arguments for or against abortion
are not good arguments. Rather, I suggested, stick to the morality
of the issue, not cold calculations reducible to statistical analysis
that can be argued both ways. I was putting forward a bad argument
to immediately shoot it down. Widely circulated versions of my
remarks – for example, on the Today Show, in Time
Magazine, on MSNBC, and in a flurry of press releases from Capitol
Hill – inaccurately reported what I said during that conversation,
and what I meant. They reported or emphasized only the abhorrent
argument, not my shooting it down.
although I cannot apologize for what I said and meant, which when
understood in context ought not be objectionable, I regret that
people have misrepresented my views so that they have been the
cause of hurt, controversy, and confusion. What was presented
in some of the media as my opinion would shock me as well; so
I cannot blame many people for being mad as hell at what they
heard. But such characterizations of my statements and views are
not a fair, accurate, or true picture of either what I believe
or what I said. In my conversation, I was raising an abhorrent
hypothetical—and said so—an idea contrary to everything
I believe, and contrary to the record of my life, my work and
my writings, including 17 books.
Could I have
said it better? Maybe. But my position, one of moral condemnation,
could not have been clearer. “Morally reprehensible”
are the words I used immediately, in the same breath and thought
as this ugly hypothetical. What do my critics not understand about
the meaning of the words “morally reprehensible”?
Do they think it means approval?
So over the
course of the past week, I have been condemned as a “racist,”
I myself have been called “reprehensible,” and it
is said I am an advocate for “aborting black children,”
and even worse.
have told me to shut up about race, crime, abortion, and black
America – that I cannot go there. But that’s impossible.
I have been there for forty years, and I am not leaving now.
I am pro-life,
I am dedicated to the proposition, as all of us are, that all
men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain
inalienable rights, and that among these – you know the
rest. I have worked toward the real achievement of that equality
and opportunity all of my life.
don’t like it when people talk about themselves –
and I don’t like to do it here, but I must, because my critics
have made the issue me.
a tense year for race relations in America, I was in Mississippi.
I was teaching there. I taught philosophy at the University of
Southern Mississippi. What I became known for teaching was the
philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his Letter from the
Birmingham Jail. Not everyone there approved, believe me.
In the 1970s
and 1980s King came up again. I fought against segregation in
Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. My first appointment to government
at the National Endowment for the Humanities almost didn’t
happen. Some detractors from my then-home state of North Carolina
wrote Senator Jesse Helms, whose endorsement I needed, that I
was a “liberal” and had a big picture of the same
Martin Luther King in my office. I don’t know about the
“liberal” – they thought I was liberal in Hattiesburg,
too – but the part about the picture was certainly true.
As the United
States Secretary of Education, I visited inner-city schools in
probably every major city of this country. For all children, I
advocated for school choice, against a ghetto-ized, dumbed-down
curriculum, and for more attention to the education of character.
I said, incessantly, that a good education was the critical civil
right of our time.
As the nation’s
first Drug Czar, I returned to those cities, and to public housing,
and to crack houses, and to hospitals, to “preemie”
wards where premature babies were born because their mothers were
on crack, and to treatment centers in church basements to find
out what was going on. We went after the drug dealers, and you
know what, we got a lot of them. Believe it or not, we –
all of us, government and citizens alike – started to break
the back of the drug epidemic. And the numbers showed it. I was
controversial, and we were often criticized by the academia and
by elites. But these criticisms were nothing compared to the expressions
of thanks from the inner-city parents in those communities who
knew what we were doing, and who knew what the illegal drug trade
– specifically, crack – was doing to their babies.
Since I left
government, I have continued these campaigns in both the private
and semi-private and public spheres. In my books, I have condemned
all forms of bigotry and, in my childrens’ books, consistently
highlighted positive role models from all races and ethnicities.
An education company I helped found has developed an excellent
curriculum for use by all children – all age levels and
abilities – wherever they live in the United States. I am
told that in a couple of weeks, it will be announced that this
excellent math program has dramatically lifted the scores of inner-city,
I have been
involved in much charitable work in these quarters. I believe
it has done some good as well. I hope so. Again, I normally don’t
like to do this: I established and continue to fund a scholarship
program for young women from the Washington, DC area.
I’m proudest of in my charitable work is the program my
wife founded and runs, Best Friends. It is in 26 cities around
the country. It is dedicated to helping adolescents make positive
life decisions, including abstinence from sex, drugs, and alcohol.
According to the University of Chicago, the high school girls
in her program are 120 times less likely to engage in pre-marital
sex than other girls. I would guess that 75 percent of the girls
in her program are black. Elayne is doing very well by these young
women, and they know it. She is so proud of them – as I
am of her. I would venture to say her program – for which
she has taken no salary for 15 years, 60 hours a week –
has saved more children, largely in the inner city, than anything
most my critics have ever done.
All of this
work means nothing to those critics. Because when I broached the
sensitive topics of abortion, race, and crime, my comments became
the subject of dishonest and selective editing, in order not to
further a conversation, but to stop one – to put a hit on
me, to take me out. Well, I’m not going. They’ve tried
before. That’s not the point.
today is this: I have worked to provide safety from crime and
drugs, and educational opportunities for all children in this
country. That’s what I do. Those two things – and
my family, my faith, my country, football, rock-and-roll, and
the mountains – that’s all I do. That’s my life.
And for many parents in the inner city, there are no higher priorities
than those first two things: safety and education for their children.
For years, I have advocated policies which I believe would serve
them. And some of these, implemented, have in fact served them
very well. So to the critics who are after my hide, I ask you
this: What is your plan to help these children? What measures
of effectiveness do you have to decrease illiteracy? (63% of African
American 4th graders cannot read at a basic level.) I have a plan
– do you? Where is my critics’ program that will help
prevent teenage pregnancy and thereby the horribly and tragically
large abortion rate in the black community – a rate three
times higher than in the white community? I know of programs that
can help. I give them my support, my money, and my time. And I
invite my critics to join me in this.
In the end,
let me point out that at the heart of the controversy this last
week were abortion, black children, and crime. These are tough,
explosive issues in American life, but we have to address them.
We cannot flinch from them. But let me be as clear as I can on
this controversial combination of all three issues. I am pro-life
– I am unalterably and categorically opposed to any plan,
idea, or scheme to promote widespread abortion of black children
(or white children, or Latino American children), whatever its
effect on the crime rate, the growth rate, or the GDP. I abhor
such a notion. Today more than 1,000 black children will be legally
aborted in this country. I grieve, as we all should, at those
numbers, and I know people and programs that offer a better way.
Do my critics? Do they abhor this calamity? If they really do,
let me offer them some words they can use about the widespread
abortion of black children, words of mine from the radio show
a week ago: “ridiculous, impossible, and morally reprehensible.”
Those were my words. Now they can try them on.
A final thought
on this: If the very prospect of the widespread abortion of black
babies is as obnoxious and horrible to my critics as they are
saying it is, then perhaps they can join me, my wife, my colleagues,
friends, supporters, churches – and address not simply the
prospect of widespread abortion, but its reality. We can do better.
let me talk about truth for a half minute. Let us engage with
earnestness and honesty the tough, hard issues of the day. But
let’s treat each other better in doing so.
do worse than going back to that 3000-year-old model of dialogue
– three things old Socrates said are needed for such dialogue
– candor, intelligence, and good will. Let’s work
on the good will.
as Forrest Gump said, is all I have to say about that.
J. Bennett is the host of the nationally syndicated radio show,
Morning In America, and the Washington Fellow of the Claremont