No philosophical deed goes unpunished

While Robert Bennett is drawing insufficient criticism for blaming Scooter Libby for Judith Miller’s stay in prison, his brother Bill Bennett is taking unjustified heat for comments he made on the subject of abortion. Bennett (Bill, that is) argued that it would be morally reprehensible to abort all black babies even though doing so would reduce the crime rate (the crime rate for African-Americans is much higher than the national average). 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.
Bennett’s comments weren’t really about race. Nonetheless, Nick Schulz at Tech Central Station makes a good point when he observes that the knee-jerk reaction to Bennett’s remarks demonstrates the impossibility of having a serious national conversation about race, such as President Clinton claimed to desire. More broadly, the reaction demonstrates the difficulty of having a serious national conversation about anything (ask Lawrence Summers).
Fortunately, as Schulz points out, some liberal commentators backed up their claim of being “reality based” by defending Bennett’s comments. Matthew Yglesias said it about as well as it can be said. Brad DeLong said it well too, though he was unable to resist directing crude invective at Bennett.
Media Matters, of course, was at the forefront of the intellectually dishonest criticism of Bennett.


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