What’s wrong with this picture?
Brad DeLong defends Bill Bennett, and George W. Bush denounces him.
The explanation is simple, of course: DeLong has the acuity to parse a somewhat complex oral text, and the integrity to stand up for a wrongly-accused opponent. Bush, by contrast, neither knows nor cares what Bennett meant to say, and lacks the cojones to stand up for a wrongly-accused ally.
Yes, it’s hard to feel very sorry for Bennett. The comment that tripped him up wasn’t genocidal, but it was deeply intellectually dishonest: there’s no legitimate comparison between claiming that unwanted children commit a disproportionate share of crime, and that therefore allowing women the choice of terminating pregnancies will reduce crime, and a proposal for forced abortions for all black women.
But Brad is right: Bennett, an abortion opponent, was rejecting a caller’s invitation to claim that abortion restriction would improve the fiscal picture of Social Security, and trying to explain that the anti-abortion position should be argued for on moral rather than consequential grounds.
Footnote It was ill-spirited of Bennett to bring up the racial composition of the crime statistics in an irrelevant context, but, alas, he wasn’t wrong about the facts. Steve Levitt is right to say that reducing the size of the population will always reduce the number of crimes, but Bennett’s comment was about the crime rate: that is, the ratio of crimes to people.