October 18, 2005
Joke Night

By William F. Buckley

The rhetorical blur decalcifies straight thought. William Bennett thought he was being asked about crime rates. Well, he was being asked about crime rates, but the blur took over and the world found itself deliberating whether he wished to abort all children of black mothers.

So he had to begin not with the point he had set out to make, but by affirming that not only was he against aborting black babies, he was against aborting any babies. Ah, but that statement bumps squarely into Roe v. Wade, which, invoking the right to privacy, entitles mothers to abort their children without any reference to their ethnicity.

But how did we get into all this? By egging on foggy thought -- especially if it can be said to defend against ethnic slurring or challenges to the new constitutional postulate on abortion.

Poor Mr. Bennett was driven to saying: Look, if you want to end all crime you can do that by aborting all babies. That sounded ridiculous enough to slow down, if only for a minute, the posse determined to find him guilty of racist thought.

But the argument had many tentacles. A few nights later, Bill Maher, who chops logic on HBO, worked up a frenzy of scorn for his guest Andrew Sullivan for refusing to ascribe to poverty full responsibility for crime. Maher does not advance his thought methodically, but here is the rough sequence intended:

If there is more crime committed by black Americans than by non-blacks, it is on account of poverty.

Poverty is what happens when Republicans control Congress and the White House.

The latest poll reveals that endorsement of White House policies by black Americans is 2 percent. Endorsement of Bush by whites is 45 percent.

The difference suggests the victimization of black Americans by White House policies.

These policies result in poverty, which results in crime.

Therefore it is correct to say that poverty equals crime, and correct to say that blacks suffer more than whites from poverty, but not correct to say that blacks engage in more crime than whites do.

Abortion is a constitutional right and the exercise of abortion must not be disdained or criticized, but abortion must not be recommended as a step toward diminishing either poverty or crime. Even if it does.

On the program in question, Mr. Sullivan suddenly turned to Mr. Maher and said, "You just called me stupid."

What made Sullivan stupid in the eyes of Maher wasn't that he questioned that poverty was the whole of the explanation for crime. It was that belief in religion is, according to Maher, "stupid." Since Mr. Sullivan believes in religion, that makes him, by deduction, stupid. Maher did not pull away from Sullivan's deduction, at least not directly. He settled for saying that religion was stupid but people are perfectly free to do stupid things.

This calmed Mr. Sullivan down, and he settled for saying, Is it stupid when Christians feed the hungry? When they shelter the exposed? When they preach love of fellow men? Everybody laughed.

It doesn't matter what Maher says, they laugh. It would have been good to hear from Mr. Sullivan the words of Belloc, but they might have ruined the fun. Belloc once observed that "We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh, we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile."

Copyright 2005 Universal Press Syndicate

William F. Buckley

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