After pondering on his radio program how aborting every black infant in America would affect crime rates, best-selling author and self-styled "Values Czar" Bill Bennett is vehemently denying he is a racist and defending his willingness to speak publicly about race and crime.
On the Wednesday edition of his radio show, "Bill Bennett's Morning in America," syndicated by Salem Radio Network, a caller raised the theory that Social Security is in danger of becoming insolvent because legalized abortion has reduced the number of tax-paying citizens. Bennett said economic arguments should never be employed in discussions of moral issues.
If it were your sole purpose to reduce crime, Bennett said, "You could 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," he added.
Bennett was secretary of education for President Ronald Reagan and is considered one of the Republican Party's big brains. But this week Democrats and some Republicans seemed to also question if Bennett's mouth is of size as well.
Democrats expressed outrage, ranging from demands for an apology to requests that the Federal Communications Commission suspend Bennett's show.
"Republicans, Democrats and all Americans of good will should denounce this statement, should distance themselves from Mr. Bennett," said Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill. "And the private sector should not support Mr. Bennett's radio show or his comments on the air."
"I'm not even going to comment on something that disgusting," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "Really, I'm thinking of my black grandchild and I'm going to hold (off)."
In an interview with ABC News, Bennett said that anyone who knows him knows he isn't racist. He said he was merely extrapolating from the best-selling book "Freakonomics," which posits the hypothesis that falling crimes rates are related to increased abortion rates decades ago. "It would have worked for, you know, single-parent moms; it would have worked for male babies, black babies," Bennett said. So why immediately bring up race when discussing crime rates? "There was a lot of discussion about race and crime in New Orleans," Bennett said. "There was discussion – a lot of it wrong – but nevertheless, media jumping on stories about looting and shooting and gangs and roving gangs and so on.
"There's no question this is on our minds," Bennett said. "What I do on our show is talk about things that people are thinking … we don't hesitate to talk about things that are touchy."
Bennett said, "I'm sorry if people are hurt, I really am. But we can't say this is an area of American life (and) public policy that we're not allowed to talk about – race and crime."
Robert George, an African-American, Republican editorial writer for the New York Post, agrees that Bennett's comments were not meant as racist. But he worries they feed into stereotypes of Republicans as insensitive. "His overall point about not making broad sociological claims and so forth, that was a legitimate point," George said. "But it seems to me someone with Bennett's intelligence … should know better the impact of his words and sort of thinking these things through before he speaks."
The blunt-spoken Bennett has ruffled feathers before, most recently in 2003 for revelations that despite his best-selling books about virtue and values, he is a high-rolling preferred customer at Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos.
In light of accusations that the Bush administration should have been more sensitive to black victims of Hurricane Katrina, a Republican official told ABC News that Bennett's comments were "probably as poorly timed as they were politically incorrect."
ABC News' Avery Miller, Karen Travers and Toni L. Wilson contributed to this report.