And I wonder, wonder who…who wrote The Book of Virtues


Bill Bennett, America’s former “morality czar” and author of The Book of Virtues, spoke frankly today in a remark he made on his radio program, “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America.” In response to a caller who wanted to talk about an assertion made in the book, Freakonomics, that the crime rate is down partly because abortion rates have increased:

But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.

Both Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and the NAACP rushed to demand an apology from Bennett, and Bennett quickly responded by saying that he was using the scenario of aborting black babies to explain that opposing abortion for economic reasons was as wrong as opposing it for reasons related to racism. That is indeed exactly what Bennett was doing–I’ll give him that–context is everything.

But though I accept Bennett’s explanation of context, I have to ask: Of all the things he could have said by way of example, why did he choose to say something so totally inflammatory? He could just as well have said “You could abort every fetus (it didn’t go by me that he said “baby”) in high-crime cities, and your crime rate would go down….” But he didn’t. He said “black baby.” There is no way to get around his selection of a particular race in constructing his example. The metaphor excuse goes only so far.

Bennett, a peculiar kind of morals maven, is a compulsive gambler. It is very unusual for someone with a compulsive gambling habit to escape doing harm to his family, but Bennett insists that he didn’t. At any rate, the revelation about his gambling doesn’t seem to have hurt him in conservative circles, just as the revelation of Rush Limbaugh’s drug addiction didn’t hurt him. And I doubt that Bennett’s suddenly finding that the only rhetorical example available to him was “black baby” will cause him to lose his status as the conservative steward of our morals.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.