The Magazine

Bill Bennett, pink locker-rooms, and more.

Putting Bennett in context and notes from the left locker-room.

Oct 10, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 04 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Smearing Bill Bennett

There are real scandals in Washington and manufactured ones. The accusation that former Education Secretary William Bennett is a racist falls decidedly into the latter category. A left-wing group that monitors the media statements of its ideological enemies ginned up a lynch mob against Bennett based on a willful misinterpretation of comments about abortion he made to a caller on his radio show Wednesday, September 28. By Friday morning, the mob had gotten results: Congresspersons were calling for Bennett's head on a pike. The Bush White House was distancing itself. The AP wire blared the headline: "Bennett: Black Abortions Would Lower Crime," which was pretty much the polar opposite of what he actually said and believes.

In a nutshell, Bennett argued that those who believe abortion is a grave moral wrong should steer clear of utilitarian arguments, since these can lead to the conclusion that it is acceptable to do evil (e.g., kill unborn black babies) because good might come of it (lower crime rates). Here's the transcript:

Caller: I noticed the national media, you know, they talk a lot about the loss of revenue, or the inability of the government to fund Social Security, and I was curious, and I've read articles in recent months here, that the abortions that have happened since Roe v. Wade, the lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30-something years, could fund Social Security as we know it today. And the media just doesn't--never touches this at all.

Bennett: Assuming they're all productive citizens?

Caller: Assuming that they are. Even if only a portion of them were, it would be an enormous amount of revenue.

Bennett: Maybe, maybe, but we don't know what the costs would be, too. I think as--abortion disproportionately occurs among single women, no?

Caller: I don't know the exact statistics, but quite a bit are, yeah.

Bennett: All right, well, I mean, I just don't know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don't know. I mean, it cuts both [ways]. You know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well--

Caller: Well, I don't think that statistic is accurate.

Bennett: Well, I don't think it is either, I don't think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don't know. 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.

Okay, it was not Bennett's most articulate moment, but the point is morally weighty: Abortion is a wrong without regard to its effect on crime rates, Social Security solvency, or global warming. The only apologies owed in this case are by Bennett's detractors.

Seeing Pink

First things first. How exactly did University of Iowa adjunct law professor Erin Buzuvis find her way into the middle of an anonymous-death-threats-level controversy over a shade of latex paint called "Dusky Rose"? According to a September 22 entry she posted on Buzwords, her personal blog, it wasn't her fault at all: "KCRG-TV (channel nine) called me today"--not the other way around--because an unnamed "someone told them I had an opinion on the issue." That "issue" being the Iowa athletic department's decades-old practice of decorating its Kinnick Stadium visitors' locker room--walls, shower stalls, carpets, ceilings, urinals, everything--in the aforementioned Dusky Rose color scheme. Otherwise known as "pink."

And improbably enough, it turned out that KCRG's tipster was right; Erin Buzuvis really had taken the trouble to formulate a specific opinion about pink football lockers. She thought them "sexist and homophobic," because "putting your opponent in a pink locker room is saying 'you are weak like a girl,'" which "implies that girls are nondominant" and "belittles every female athlete out there." And, yes, she was willing to say as much on camera. And, no, she never for a moment imagined that a brief broadcast interview like that could, within the space of 24 hours, make her the target of statewide ridicule and at least one emailed death threat. But that's what happened.