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Words. Mean. Things.

I was watching the news this morning and caught this story: Secretary saying that, "you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down." My first thought, not being able to stay for the whole story and the anger against him, was oh-no-what-an-idiot-what-was-he-thinking-that's-completely-out-of-bounds. I wanted to post on how he was an idiot, that I was going to have to deal with the non-Book of Virtues fallout.

But then I heard a little more on the radio on the way into work, and I discovered something utterly devastating: I had fallen for it. I pride myself in being able to ask questions, converse with folks, go the "other way" to make a point and fill in all the various blanks. I like hyperbole and exaggeration and absurdity that brings us to some good point. And that's what happened here - the quote above is pulled from the context of a discussion on the ends justifying the means. Here's the context, the saving grace for Bennett in this case: "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could 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."

Yes, he said it - and in context brought up that it would be "morally reprehensible", a phrase with very little leeway on how wrong he thinks something like that would be. If the only thing you're thinking about is A, then do B - which would be utterly reprehensible, and teaching us that the ends (B) do not justify the means (A). That's the context. Poor choice? Perhaps, but also so absurd and out there that it probably made his point better than anything else he could've used.

Cut back to me in the car on the radio, hearing the people harangue against him for that one phrase. I fell for it, getting angry and calling him an idiot, too - when he was really close to doing what I do all the time. But the soundbite is better as one phrase taken out of context, and the heated sermons being blasted back at him are better in their own ignorance of what he actually said.

All that to say: I'll defend him on this one. And I'll keep entering into conversations where we try to learn from each other instead of preaching from soapboxes and holier-than-thou positions, especially when those places are clueless on what's really going on around us in the context of this life.

UPDATE: Here's the uneditted audio that sparked the controversy. Poor choice of words? Maybe. But not racist, and not worthy of all that's been thrown back his way.


Blogger The Cubicle Reverend said...

Thanks for bringing this up Rick. How often do we fall for it? Like when Dobson made the gay comment about Spongebob he never really made. I may not agree with them, but it's easy to hear one part of a sentence and fall for it.

30/9/05 11:37 AM  
Blogger MaryAnn M said...

we just dont understand big words like reprehensible so we want to slam him and make him apologize for this statement.

duh...he is on their side.

30/9/05 12:27 PM  
Blogger Daedalus said...

It may be a true statement, but there is something to be said for tact and diplomacy, and he did not use it. If he was looking to change a condition through the use of shock, well, maybe, though probably not, he could get away with saying something like this. But, the fact is that he didn't need to say it. He's in the public eye. He should know better.

1/10/05 12:35 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"knowing better" isn't usually a strong suit of any of these pundits on either side of the line, is it? but my beef is that no one's willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and everyone's so quick to attack what he said instead of listening to what he actually said.

1/10/05 12:51 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn said...

yes, in general, the media does a good job of picking out sound clips for us all to go crazy over. and b/c you pointed that out, i hesitate to get upset about it.


although he did somewhat justify what his words by the "morally reprehensible" bit, it is the next sentence that really get's people fired up...

"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, you know, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."

Actually, it is the very last word thats making everyone quetsion him. By tricky does he now mean that it is morally reprehensible if you don't find a way to get away with it?

although this is a comment a few days late, it's still something to think about.

5/10/05 9:20 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

for me, the problem isn't as much with what he said as it is with how we take what he said, how there's no room to throw an absurdity out there without being lamblasted and labelled. i don't think there's anything racist about the comment in the context of the question and conversation - but if anyone's looking for a prooftext we've got one. know what i mean?

never too later :)

5/10/05 9:33 AM  

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