WASHINGTON – Former Education Secretary William Bennett (search), harshly criticized by Democrats and repudiated by the White House for a comment he made suggesting that, in theory, crime would go down if more black babies were aborted, fired back at his critics Friday.
"Anyone paying attention to this debate should be offended by those who have selectively quoted me, distorted my meaning, and taken out of context the dialogue I engaged in this week. Such distortions from 'leaders' of organizations and parties is a disgrace not only to the organizations and institutions they serve, but to the First Amendment (search)," Bennett said.
"Let me reiterate what I had hoped my long career had already established: that I renounce all forms of bigotry — and that my record in trying to provide opportunities for, as well as save the lives of, minorities in this country stands up just fine," he added.
The conservative author, columnist and talk-radio host touched off a firestorm on Wednesday when a caller to his "Morning in America" show postulated that if abortion were illegal, Social Security would remain solvent.
Bennett raised questions about the caller's premise, saying that according to that logic, the argument in the book Freakonomics — that allowing abortion reduces crime — would be equally valid.
Referring to the book's hypothesis, Bennett told the caller, "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."
Bennett continued: "That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do. But your crime rate would go down."
Bennett's remarks on Wednesday earned him scorn from Democratic lawmakers.
"He's assuming that if you did this immoral thing, it would bring down crime and that is a possible solution," Rep. Charles Rangel (search), D-N.Y., told FOX News. "A good-thinking guy that is a former secretary of education could give the hypothetical that if you expose people to education," then you would alleviate the conditions that cause crime, he said.
"It again raises the specter of the not-so-subtle politics of race represented by 'Willie Horton,' welfare queens and the conclusion that America would be better off if Strom Thurmond had been successful in 1948," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
"These are shameful words," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said on the floor of the House Thursday evening. "Secretary Bennett's comments reflect a narrow-minded spirit that has no place within American discourse. These words do not give credence to the tremendously difficult past that African-Americans have endured. These words do not reflect the values of hope and opportunity for the future."
Asked for White House reaction to the remarks, press secretary Scott McClellan said Friday, "The president believes the comments were not appropriate."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said of the White House comment: "Not appropriate is wearing white shoes after Labor Day. These comments were reprehensible and racist."
Lautenberg was introducing a resolution in the Senate calling on the chamber to condemn Bennett's comments.
The Subtleties of Race Relations
Bennett was education secretary under President Reagan and director of drug control policy when President Bush's father was president.
In discussing crime and race on his show, Bennett later said those are topics that "have been on many people's minds, and tongues, for the past month or so in light of the situation in New Orleans."
Many in public policy have speculated about the slow response to Hurricane Katrina, which struck more than a month ago, by the federal government, with much of the blame laid at Bush's feet. Several suggestions had been made that the president's response was delayed because those suffering most in New Orleans were poor and black.
The latest rhetorical slams were expanded last week at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Conference when Rangel likened Bush to the late Bull Connor, the Birmingham, Ala., commissioner of public safety who had his workers turn fire hoses and police dogs on African-Americans demonstrating against segregation laws in 1963.
Rangel said Bennett, like Bush, could find solutions for impoverished black Americans if they bothered to address poverty issues.
"If the United States spent nearly as much time on poverty as they did in Iraq, we could solve some of the racial problems," Rangel said, adding that he did not think Bush is racist like Connor but that the president's "economic policies are so adverse to the questions of poverty" that he was hoping Bush's "indifference" to the plight of black Americans "would shake up the country the way that Bull Connor did."
On Thursday, Bennett, author of "The Book of Virtues," told FOX News that his remarks were to be viewed from the specter of academia and philosophic argument.
"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," he said.