Saturday, October 1, 2005

No Good Ideas

Howard Fineman writes about the Democrats' despair over their dismal political prospects. They recognize that not only does their stable of candidates lack the star power of the Republican lineup, their "idea people" are singularly void of any ideas. They lack, as a party, a unifying ideal for them to rally behind and to stand stoutly for. The only imagination they display is the sort seen in the fellow in the Capital One commercials who thinks up ever more clever variations on the word no.

No to more refineries, no to more drilling, no to social security reform, no to tax cuts, no to Bush's judges, no to the war on terror, no to tort reform, no to civility in our political discourse, no to anything George Bush wants to do for the United States and the American people.

Although Fineman doesn't say it the fact of the matter is that most of the ideas that seem to resonate with voters right now are conservative ideas. The Democrats have defined themselves as an anti-party. Their only distinctive is that they are opposed to Bush and all his works. Because there is nothing for which they can be said to stand they give the impression that their only motive for seeking elective office is the acquisition of power. Power must be an end in itself for the Dems because they haven't a clue what they would do with it if it ever fell back into their laps except use it to punish political opponents.

A platform based on lust for power and sweet revenge may rouse the fringes into a frenzy, but it's not likely to inspire the rank and file to turn out for Democratic candidates. The Democrats seem soulless and forlorn because, quite simply, they are.

Bennett's "Blunder"

Much of the commentary, even from conservatives, about William Bennett's alleged faux pas misses the mark. Ed Morissey at Captain's Quarters is an example:

Do we know that the crime rate would go down, any more than if we aborted every white baby in America? No, we do not, and that mistaken assumption creates the much smaller but legitimate criticism of Bennett's remarks. At the heart of that assertion, Bennett has to assume that all other things being equal, blacks are more likely to commit crime than non-blacks as part of their innate nature, and not as part of an environment.

First mistake: using blacks as an example. Had he said "poor", he would have been much closer to the mark. The poor do not have an innate compulsion to commit crime either, but the environment in which they enter the world creates more pressure towards criminal behavior. That does not hold true for "all black children" -- only for those born into that environment.

This is all beside the point. The reason why Bennett used the construction "black baby" is clear to anyone who understands the context of the remark. He was commenting on a study that appears in a book called Freakonomics in which the authors show a correlation between the onset of large-scale abortion on demand in this country in 1973 and lower crime rates beginning about 18 to 20 years later. The authors, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, argue that the correlation exists because crime is largely a poor minority phenomenon and so is abortion.

In other words, the authors argue that because there have been millions fewer black babies born in the last thirty years, crime has gone down (Their thesis may be right or wrong. It's a mistake, however, to think that they were advocating abortion as a means of reducing crime, much less abortion of black babies. They were simply noting a correlation).

Bennett was nevertheless objecting to the notion that abortion should be seen as a legitimate means of reducing crime rates. With the Levitt/Dubner book in mind, he was in effect insisting that aborting babies, even those in the high-crime demographic, even if crime could be profoundly curtailed by so doing, is a reprehensible social policy.

That's all Bennett was saying. Whatever it might be that's wrong with what he said we confess that it eludes us.