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Bill Bennett Explains His Controversial Remarks

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," September 29, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Our top story tonight is the controversy surrounding radio talk show host Bill Bennett. Yesterday on his radio show, Mr. Bennett — Dr. Bennett was quoted as saying, "I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you cold 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."

The comments have drawn criticism today from Senate minority leader Harry Reid (search) who said he was appalled. Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy (search) who called them racist and from House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (search) who said they were shameful. Bill Bennett joins us now in an exclusive interview to talk about these comments.

Dr. Bennett, we appreciate you coming on tonight.

DR. BILL BENNETT, "MORNING IN AMERICA" HOST: Thank you.

COLMES: Might give you an opportune to put them in context and explain.

BENNETT: Sure. Well, the context was a radio show that I was doing yesterday, and the topic was abortion and we were talking about bad arguments in regard to abortion. A caller suggested he was opposed to abortion because he said if there were more babies there would be, eventually, more tax payers and a larger GNP, a smaller deficit. I said you want to be careful with that kind of argument because someone could postulate a situation where child's not likely to be a productive taxpayer. I said, arguments in which you take something that's far out, like the GNP and try to connect it up with abortion are tricky. I said make the case of abortion on the basis of life and protecting life. I said abortion is invoked in another way — you could make an argument that if you wanted to lower the crime rate, you saw the quote — you could practice abortion in very large numbers. You could do it in the black community. You could do it in other places. This is, by the way, the subject of a book for economics by a professor at Yale.

I said, however, if you were to practice that, widespread abortion in the black community or any other community, it would be ridiculous, impossible, and I appreciate you putting it on the screen, morally reprehensible. So I think morally reprehensible, when that is included in the quote makes it perfectly clear what my position is. A number of the people whom you have cited as condemning me have not made the inclusion of that remark, and so they make it seem, Alan, as if I am supporting such a monstrous idea, which of course I don't.

COLMES: Here's my concern. The root cause of crime, one would debate, it seems to be poverty. And from your remarks, I wonder if people might interpret it as saying the root cause of crime is race. And that debate about is it race is it poverty? What really is the root cause? And race affects people of all races and creeds and I think that's why...

BENNETT: Poverty. Poverty affects people of all races. Let me tell you what bothers me first, because I'm always candid with you. What bothers me is that last night on your radio show, you were all over me, Alan. And, you know, I was really surprised. You know me, you've known me for a long time and the fact that you would give credence to the notion that I would believe such a thing is very disturbing. I've had 1,000 opportunities when people have said to me what about that Alan Colmes, isn't he a jerk or a liberal this — I've always said he's always a gentleman, he's nice to me. I run a radio show in which we don't yell at people, we don't make fun of them. We have liberals and conservatives and we deal with sensitive and important public policies issues and we do it in a responsible way. But people need to follow the argument and the argument I was making here is entirely plausible. The causes of crime are very complicated. But there is a very big literature, as you know, about single parenthood in crime, about race in crime, and about poverty in crime. And we've been talking about all these things lately in the context of New Orleans and other things.

COLMES: Let me talk to you...

BENNETT: There are real things in the real world, and there are people who believe we should take such monstrous steps.

COLMES: Let me talk about what I said on my radio show.

BENNETT: I do not.

COLMES: Dr. Bennett — Bill, because you know, I do consider you someone — we've been good to each other. I like you. I think you respect me.

BENNETT: Yes sir.

COLMES: I was really shocked.

BENNETT: Have been.

COLMES: And I played what you said and the whole context of what you said. Frankly, I was just shocked by it. I don't believe you're a racist. I don't think that you believe those things. I was just shocked by what I heard and basically there was a lot of callers calling up and commenting on it after I played your comments. And a lot of other people were shocked that you would have — in the context you said it — say the things you said.

BENNETT: Well, you know, to put forward a hypothesis, a morally impossible hypothesis to show why it is morally impossible and reprehensible seems to me is a standard way of talking about public policy and a standard way of teaching. You know, I've taught philosophy for years and one argues in the hypothetical all the time. People have said such outrageous things, Alan, about race — and this is certainly not unknown to our history — to the history of Europe, recently. It's not unknown to the history of Islam. And what we have — you've got to be able to make an argument and say look, you may be thinking you're going to achieve some good end, but you can't use a monstrous means to do it. You know, this is like a Swift's modest proposal for people who remember their literature. You put things up in order to examine them. I put it up, examined it, and said that is ridiculous and impossible no matter who advances that idea.

COLMES: All right, Sean will be with you in the next segment. There are some statistics, you know, that talk about how African-Americans are treated disparagingly in the criminal justice and, you know, we could debate whether or not there really is a greater prejudice against African-Americans and whether they are incarcerated disproportionately.

BENNETT: Yeah.

COLMES: But look we got to take a break and we'll continue with you...

BENNETT: Those are big complicated questions...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: We continue with the host of "Morning in America." (search) Bill Bennett is back with us.

Bill, first of all, I have known for you many, many years. I know your faith, I know your character, I know who you are. You're a former secretary of education, former drug czar. This notion that Bill Bennett as is being alleged by prominent democrats has any racist bone in his body is appalling to me.

BENNETT: Yeah.

HANNITY: And I'm glad to hear you say what you said here. I want you to respond to those democrats that are grandstanding, the same ones that had Robert Byrd (search), the former Klansman as their leader. The ones that didn't speak out about Congressman Rangle's "Bull" Connor remark.

BENNETT: Yeah. Yeah. Well, let's see, you got Kennedy. I will — I'll not take instruction from Teddy Kennedy. A young woman likely drowned because of his negligence. I'll take no moral instruction with him. That's much worse than legal gambling what Teddy Kennedy did. He should make no judgments at all about people. He shouldn't be in the Senate. As far as racist and all this other stuff, I'll put my record up with Howard Dean (search), with Harry Reid.

When I was drug czar, you bet, we were working on the issue of black crime, Alan and Sean, because there was a lot of crime in the black community. And you know who most of the victims are? Their black people. Yeah, black violence — black-on-black violence is very serious. I went to about 120 inner city communities. That's where the senate wanted me to go, that's where the Senate wanted me to go, that's where I wanted to go. We went after public housing and we went after the bad guys. And you know what? We got the bad guys. And drug use went down. And we raised the price and lowered the purity of cocaine. And we arrested four of the most powerful drug dealers in the world. And got a lot of these guys off the street. And I am very proud of that. Because when we went into the inner city black community, the people said to me, Mr. Czar, or Czar, or Mr. Bennett, you get those people off the street and protect us. And we did our best to do it.

Before that, when I was secretary of education, I took on what I think is one of the great civil rights issues of our time, which is educational opportunity and educational choice. The stupid ghettoized curriculum we have, the fact that these black kids go to lousy schools and aren't allowed to choose the schools of their choice because they don't have the money and don't have the opportunity.

I've been at this for 25 years and I have been called everything in the book, but I will stay at what I do because I believe it.

Let me just tell you, when it comes to abortion, my wife's program, Best Friends (search), has kept more young women from having abortions because they don't get pregnant because they take her good counsel...

HANNITY: Let me...

BENNETT: Than the entire black caucus. She has done more for inner city black girls than the entire black caucus. So I will not bow my head to any of these people. I will not give up the ground of compassion and sympathy. But I'll tell you, we have real issues and we have got to talk about them candidly. And if you don't think there are people who are making draconian proposals about abortion and this and that and the other thing, you know, you don't know the nature...

HANNITY: Let me ask you this. I want to ask you about the nature of debate in this society.

BENNETT: Sure.

HANNITY: I go back to the Bill Maher (search) issue. I don't like — I don't even like Bill Maher. We disagree on just about everything. But Bill Maher said one statement and his entire history of support in the military was cast aside and people focused on one thing. I said wait a minute, that's wrong. Here's Bill Bennett, here's Trent Lott (search). One statement, there's no room to apologize, explain, put into context, revise or extend one's remarks because people want to hop on it. We now see the democrats trying to do right now with you and trying to put you in a position of characterizing you, or categorizing you as something you are not. What does that tell you about debate and free speech in the country today?

BENNETT: It's bad. You know, if you could do an analysis — it would be interesting to do an analysis. All day I've been reading reports and statements by people about me, Sean, and it's interesting, some use the whole quote and are fair, some don't. And that tells you something. But the problem, I think, on the liberal side, the democratic side is they attitudinize, they condemn but they don't have a program.

You know, the president — I hope the president pays for this program in New Orleans, but he's got a program, and it's some interesting ideas about enterprise zones and school choice, and giving people opportunities, you know, with the loans and the green lining and they ought to be tried. Because these are ideas that might actually help the poor as opposed to maintaining the welfare state, which does not help poor people at all. It's destroyed a lot of families and it has created circumstances in which more poor people and more black people have had to suffer. What's lifted, the economic life and reduced crime in the black community has been hope and opportunity and education and enterprise.

HANNITY: Let me ask you one last question.

BENNETT: And that I think is much more, I have to tell you on this side of the aisle, I want to politicize this because there are good people on both sides.

HANNITY: Explain. I want you to explain, though, for people that see that one quote, that read that one quote, what do you say to them?

BENNETT: What I say to them, Sean, is if they were given the impression that I, you know, am in favor of such a horrible idea as, you know, my critics are suggesting, they need to look at the whole quote. I don't believe that. And I'm sorry that people have misrepresented my views so much that that has given folks that impression. You're right about a person's life. I've got a life, you know, take me in the totality of my actions and I'll tell you, I will stand with my record.

One must be very careful one gets into these arguments and we try to do it. But, you know, we try on this show to do serious and controversial issues. And it's a big country and it's a free country. We don't put liberals down. We don't put people down with whom we disagree. We talk about serious things in a serious way. And if you're not allowed to talk about these subjects, then it's not the country it's supposed to be.

You've got to be able to condemn these horrible ideas as I did.

HANNITY: Bill Bennett, appreciate you being on the program.

BENNETT: Thank you. Thank you guys.

HANNITY: Thank you very much.

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