October 18, 2005
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.
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.
is what happens when Republicans control Congress and the White
latest poll reveals that endorsement of White House policies
by black Americans is 2 percent. Endorsement of Bush by whites
is 45 percent.
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
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."
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.
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.
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."
2005 Universal Press Syndicate