bennett’s modest proposal

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Friday, 30 September 2005

Why don’t we eat babies instead of aborting them?

That was the subject of one of the greatest works of satire in the history of the English language.  In 1729 Jonathan Swift wrote "A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public." 

Swift wrote A Modest Proposal to illustrate just how bad poverty had become in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.  It was bad enough that, from an amoral perspective, the slaughter of children for human consumption, made economic sense.  The sheer inhumanity of the suggestion was designed to shock the United Kingdom into confronting its very real problems with poverty.  For that, Swift’s essay is still studied by nearly every student of college English Literature.

Swift’s argument, I’m sure, provoked outrage in its day.  Twenty years ago in a college speech class, his essay formed the basis of an argumentative speech I delivered.  I still remember the look of horror on the face of a young woman who was aghast at my suggestion until she realized that I, like Swift, was using satire to illustrate a point.

I’m going to come to bumbling Bill Bennett’s defense.  Bennett clearly stated that his modest proposal–aborting all black children–was a morally reprehensible action.  However, it would have the positive outcome of reduced crime.  In no way did he say, or even imply, that it was a desirable option.  Swift, instead, offered no such caveat or satirical warning.  He simply and persuasively argued a morally reprehensible choice.

Bennett is unfortunately correct that aborting every black child in America would reduce crime.  Instead of being shocked that he said it, we should be shocked that it’s true. 

So rather than reflexively crying RACIST!, let’s turn that outrage toward something constructive.  If we don’t honestly confront the nexus of poverty, illegitimacy, and crime, and how it relates to race, then it will only get worse.

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20 Responses to “bennett’s modest proposal”

  1. Sarcastro Says:

    So if, Bill Cosby, for example, said the same thing as Gamblin’ Bill, would we be hearing all of this hoopla regarding his remarks?

    The media is focusing on the scandalous part of his remarks, either ignoring the part where he qualified such a suggestion as morally reprehensible, or burying that part of the story several paragraphs past the point of inflammatory shock. They are also ignoring that he was discussing the book “Freakonomics”, which was co-authored by Steven Levitt, whose work you referred to in your previous post.

  2. Katherine Coble Says:

    The media is focusing on the scandalous part of his remarks

    My utter shock at this is matched only by my utter surprise.

  3. John H Says:

    Comparing Bennett’s statement to Swift is like comparing a typical Kiss lyric to anything by Elvis Costello.

    Do we start a national conversation, which has to include the African-American community, with an insult to every African-American?

    I kinda think the conversation is either going to be one-sided or a conversation that quickly escalates into name calling.

    If you were in a townhall meeting on race and unwed mothers would you start the proceedings with Bennett’s ‘Swiftian’ comment?

    I don’t think so…

  4. Rusty Says:

    Will the ethical crisis in the national Republican Party prevent TN Republicans from even having a fighting chance in the upcoming elections?

    Republicans in TN like to point fingers at the defendants in the TN Waltz Case and laugh “It’s more Democrats than Republicans going to jail!” But now the National Republicans are caught in the ethics snare and how will that impact the ’06 GOP candidates in Tennessee wrapping themselves in the national party platform?

    Will the national Republican Party’s recent problem of foot-in-mouth disease prevent Ed/Van/Corker from having a fighting chance in the long run of the Senate campaign? Will they denounce Delay?

    Will they join the chorus denouncing Bennett’s recent comments about aborting black babies to reduce crime?

    Will TN Repubs criticize Frist if the current investigations proves the allegations of Martha-Stewart style stock trading?

    Here is more on the current ethical crisis in the Republican Party:

    U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas has been indicted for conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, forcing him to temporarily step down from his leadership post. DeLay, one of the GOP’s leading national figures, dismissed the charges as baseless and politically motivated. DeLay’s indictment reverberated in federal and state political circles across the country. In Tennessee, the Democratic Party urged the Republican Party, which has called for the resignation of indicted lawmakers, to call for DeLay’s resignation from Congress. The Texas Republican vowed to fight the charges.

    What Tennesseans are saying about the Delay case:

    Frist’s Martha-Stewart-Style Stock trading? – Will he get an ankle bracelet too?

    The Bennet Story

  5. Bob K Says:

    Another irrelevant drive-by blogging-point post from Rusty.

    I pondered deleting the post and denying him future comment privileges, but I rather like the fact that the only talking points on this site, are so obviously talking points that they’re really a caricature of talking points.

  6. Bob K Says:


    Actually I think Bennett has started a national conversation about race with his, admittedly, clumsy commnet. James Taranto makes mention of that here:

  7. John H Says:

    Bob – if I ever start sounding like Rusty, please feel free to delete my comments.

    I agree whole-heartedly that an honest discussion about the impact of unwed mothers in the black community needs to take place. The statistics and obvious consequences of this phenomena are undeniable.

    The dialogue that you mention having started seems to be among conservatives who are bending over backwards to be Bennett apologists. The article you quote is well-written but not exactly from a viewpoint far from Mr. Bennett himself.

    Btw, congratulations for getting quoted in the article. The gravitas level of my blog is more akin to Mad Magazine than the WSJ.

    I don’t think we disagree at all on what needs to occur. Where we differ is the entry point. I don’t think that a statement alienating a huge portion of the people who need to be IN the discussion is a good way to get the party started.

  8. Bob K Says:


    That’s a fair assessment. It was rather bull-in-the-china-shoppish of Bennett.

    But, it’s like battle: once joined, you see it through.

    This is the discussion we need to have, let’s just get beyond the ineptness of the impetus, and move to where people aren’t afraid to discuss poverty and what to do about it.

    (Oh and btw, you’re always welcome to comment here. You’ve never written anything like an RBP–Rusty Blogging Point.)

  9. Rusty Says:


    Yes, it is much easier to say my writing is bad than to actually tackle any of my post. Come over to
    and make a post. Won’t delete yours, or even threaten too. I have a feeling it would be interesting to hear whatever you might have to say. And feel free to poke fun at the way I write all you want… you might even find a post about you already there…

    Also, if you if Bennett really wanted to tackle this issue and that was the REAL intent of his comment, then why didn’t he just say, “we need to tackle the problem of violence in the black community?”

  10. Katherine Coble Says:


    You officially bore me. That’s not easy to do. I even sit through posts from the homeless guy. There is a topic at hand, and interrupting to pimp your own blog–which is nowhere near as fine as–is just tacky.

    No one is tackling your post because it is woefully off-topic.

    Bob, I applaud your manful defense of Bill and his statements. And I get where you’re going with the attempt to salvage some good by propelling the conversation forward to an earnest discussion of the conditions of poverty.

    BUT….Bennett still said something that was easily taken out of context because he is a provocative guy. As factually right as the statement was, it was egregiously undiplomatic. I met Mr. Bennett 17 years ago,and I really like the guy. He’s a straight shooter. This time it backfired.

    He knew how that statement would be inferred. If he ONLY wanted to start a dialogue he wouldn’t have done it that way.

  11. Bob K Says:

    You’re correct that Bennett’s comments were tacky and misplayed. What he said needed to be said, just not the way he said it.

    I’ve listened to his radio show a couple times when I’ve traveled. I don’t think it’s a medium tailored to him. He is a thoughtful writer type. Not a glib talker type. I’m the same way, so I can imagine what it’s like, and cut him some slack.

    Brad DeLong, a liberal blogger quoted on TPM, had this to say in defense of Bennett:

    “Bennett is attempting a reductio ad absurdum argument.
    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.”

    Rush is the only one I’ve ever heard pull off that type of argument on the radio. And he would spend three hours setting it up. And he would still get emails from outraged listeners. Bennett is so smart that he was able to come up with a great argument against abortion’s “positives” on the fly, but he didn’t understand his medium well enough to know that it wouldn’t work right.

    Written down, what he said makes absolute and total sense. That is, if you bother to read the offending statement in it’s total context. On air, it didn’t work.

    But, here we are. He said it. Let’s move forward. What I object to is the usual race card playing that is intended to cow into silence everybody whose opinion doesn’t follow the approved race victimhood script.

    And quite frankly, I get my dander up when people get all incensed over insensitivity. Particularly when the insensitive statement is true. Get over it, people. And that’s not directed at blacks–it’s directed at anti-smokers, anti-religious, pro-religious, and any other group that takes unnecessary offense at something that somebody else does or says. When did we get so thin-skinned?

    Bill Bennett said something that’s factually and unfortunately true. Let’s put aside his impertinence in saying it, and deal with the facts as they are.

    p.s. And just so I’m not misconstrued on what I mean by “abortion’s positives,” They were discussing a book that advocates abortion because it reduces the crime rate. Neither I nor Bennett think that the “positive” in any way outweighs the “negative.” He carried that argument to its logical extreme to show its fallacy.

  12. Six Meat Buffet Says:

    Bill Bennett: Sir, You are No Chris Rock

    Since some people are so quick to intentionally misinterpret Bennett’s comments, it would only seem right to mention that Democrats already fund and sanction an ongoing war against the African-American community in the spirit of Planned Parenthood’s …

  13. Chris D. Jackson Says:

    You Republicans amaze me at every turn. Instead of denouncing what ‘Gamblin’ Bill said, you guys attack the media for ‘distorting’ what he said and then go on to defend him? Really sickening.

    Also, Rusty, take Katherine’s comments with a grain of salt. She is clearly not an objective observer when it comes to politics. She went after me soon after I joined the blogosphere. From all the posts I have read of her’s, she is clearly a member of the right wing blog community.

  14. Katherine Coble Says:

    “she is clearly a member of the right wing blog community.”

    It’s not like THAT’S any kind of well-kept secret or anything!

    And there is no such thing as an objective observer of politics. Unless you are Jesus. None of us here are Jesus.

    Chris, perhaps you’d be happiest if we burnt Bill in effigy and then toasted his crispy flesh alongside a couple of smokin’ hot blondes.

    And plenty of us have criticised Bill Bennett. I think you’ll note that I was among them. Although since I didn’t go stark-raving-banshee, I assume many on the left may not construe that as a true ‘going-after’.

  15. Chris D. Jackson Says:

    No, I will be happy when he apologizes and is fired.

  16. Chris D. Jackson Says:

    No, I will be happy when he apologizes and is fired.

  17. Rusty Says:

    Well now kids, I know everyone hates the uncomfortable doses of reality much less, expanding the conversation. But, as long as we are on the topic of Bennett and his terrible comments (No Krummy, aborting black babies is not a good solution to prevent crime), take a look at what other bloggers are saying.

    Ol’ JB over at blogging for bryant ( criticizes the concept of asking Van/Corker/Ed to denounce Bennett’s comments since Ford has never denounced similar comments by people in his own party. However, a simple Google search proves this incorrect (

    Now that said, this brings Krumm’s defense of Bennett to a very relevant point about politics in TN.

    If Ford has called out people in his own party for making inappropriate racial comments (Foot-in-mouth KING Howard Dean), how come Bryant/Ed/Van can’t do the same thing. And also for that matter, will Bredesen and Harwell weigh (not as relevant since they are running for state office and these are fed comments)?

    Now, I know Mycrophan and Krumm HATE me posting, but can anyone address this without yelling at me for introducing the uncomfortable dose or real relevance to TN politics?

  18. Rusty Says:

    OOPS — let me correct the link:

  19. Katherine Coble Says:

    1. Hate is different than boredom mixed with indifference.

    2. Chris, what exactly do you want Bill Bennett fired from?

    3. Rusty, are you just a pro-Ford blogger hiding behind your “objectivity?”

  20. Rusty Says:

    My objectivity is mixed with the entertainment of pointing out hypocrisy and occassionally introducing an uncomfortable dose of reality.

    Someone at the Bryant Blogg tried paint a picture of something not true. I called their hand on it. That doesnt’ make me pro-anyone. However, I think “indifference mixed with boredom” is an appropriate comment if that’s how you describe the nuns in school that would whack you on the knuckles and correct you in class.

    Now that said, LIGHTEN’ UP. Don’t take yourselves so seriously Katherine and Krumm and Chris.