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Bennett under fire for remarks on blacks, crime

Bennett is being harshly criticized, but he says he is standing by his comments.


William Bennett
Crime, Law and Justice
Nancy Pelosi

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congressional Democrats blasted former Education Secretary William Bennett on Thursday for saying that aborting "every black baby in this country" would reduce the crime rate, and demanded their Republican counterparts do the same.

"This is precisely the kind of insensitive, hurtful and ignorant rhetoric that Americans have grown tired of," said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters on Friday that President Bush "believes the comments were not appropriate."

Bennett, who held prominent posts in the administrations of former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, told a caller to his syndicated radio talk show Wednesday: "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 impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down," he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, had called on President Bush to condemn the comments by Bennett, who was anti-drug chief in Bush's father's administration.

"What could possibly have possessed Secretary Bennett to say those words, especially at this time?" Pelosi asked. "What could he possibly have been thinking? This is what is so alarming about his words."

Bennett stood by his comments Thursday night.

"I was putting forward a hypothetical proposition. Put that forward. Examined it. And then said about it that it's morally reprehensible. To recommend abortion of an entire group of people in order to lower your crime rate is morally reprehensible. But this is what happens when you argue that the ends can justify the means," he told CNN.

"I'm not racist, and I'll put my record up against theirs," referring to Pelosi and other critics. "I've been a champion of the real civil rights issue of our times -- equal educational opportunities for kids."

"We've got to have candor and talk about these things while we reject wild hypotheses," Bennett said.

"I don't think people have the right to be angry, if they look at the whole thing. But if they get a selective part of my comment, I can see why they would be angry. If somebody thought I was advocating that, they ought to be angry. I would be angry."

"But that's not what I advocate."

Asked if he owed people an apology, Bennett replied, "I don't think I do. I think people who misrepresented my view owe me an apology."

Bennett served as Reagan's chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1981-1985 and secretary of education from 1985-1988. From 1989-1990, he served as "drug czar" in the administration of the elder Bush.

Rush called on "my friends, the responsible Republicans" to rebuke the former Cabinet official by backing a House resolution condemning his remarks as "outrageous racism of the most bigoted and ignorant kind."

"Where is the indignation from the GOP, as one of their prominent members talk about aborting an entire race of Americans as a way of ridding this country of crime?" asked Rush, a former Black Panther. "How ridiculous! How asinine! How insane can one be?"

He called instead for "aborting" Republican policies "which have hurt the disadvantaged, the poor, average Americans for the benefit of large corporations."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said he was "appalled" by Bennett's remarks.

"The Republican Party has recently taken great pains to reach out to the African-American community, and I hope that they will be swift in condemning Mr. Bennett's comments as nothing short of callous and ignorant," said Reid, D-Nevada.

And Bruce Gordon, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, demanded an apology from Bennett and the Salem Radio Network, which airs his radio program.

"In 2005, there is no place for the kind of racist statement made by Bennett," Gordon said in a written statement. "While the entire nation is trying to help survivors, black and white, to recover from the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it is unconscionable for Bennett to make such ignorant and insensitive comments."

A man who answered the phone at the network said no one would be available to comment until Friday.

Bennett's 1993 repackaging of traditional morality tales, "The Book of Virtues," became a bestseller, and Bennett became a popular lecturer on moral issues. But in 2003, stung by news reports that he had lost millions of dollars in Las Vegas and Atlantic City over the last decade, he publicly renounced gambling and vowed to stay away from the slots from then on.

He is a Fox News contributor and chairman of "Americans for Victory over Terrorism," which his Web site calls "a project dedicated to sustaining and strengthening public opinion as the war on terrorism moves forward."

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