(Update: Adds some of Bennett's comments from Hannity & Colmes interview.)
(CNSNews.com) - Ever since he became chairman of the Republican National Committee last year, Ken Mehlman has been reaching out to African-Americans and Hispanics, with a series of meetings the RNC calls "conversations with the community."
"We Republicans have a message to all who want expanded opportunity in America: give us a chance, and we'll give you a choice," Mehlman told once such gathering in Miami this summer.
Mehlman has made the point that Republicans are "committed to inclusion," and he has suggested that Democrats take the black vote for granted.
But attempts to change African-Americans' perceptions about the Republican Party have taken a double hit in recent weeks: first, with Hurricane Katrina, which exposed the desperation of poor blacks in New Orleans. Some Democrats were quick to suggest that President Bush's policies are to blame for such pockets of poverty.
And this week, comments made by conservative Republican Bill Bennett are being held up as a reflection of Republicans' alleged racial insensitivity.
Democrat leaders are blasting Bennett for suggesting that crime could be reduced by aborting "every black baby" in America.
Bennett, who served as Education Secretary under President Ronald Reagan and as drug czar under the first President Bush, made the comment Wednesday on the "Morning in America" radio program he hosts.
He was responding to a caller who suggested that Social Security might be solvent if all the babies aborted in the last thirty years were here to pay into it.
That launched Bennett and his caller into a theoretical discussion about the impact of abortion, during which Bennett said the following:
"But 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. 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 [about abortion] are, I think, tricky."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean are among the Democrats leading the chorus of outrage.
Speaking on the House floor Thursday night, Pelosi expressed her "deep disdain and disgust" for Bennett's comments.
"These are shameful words. I am appalled to have to say them on the floor of the House of Representatives. 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," Pelosi said.
Pelosi said Bennett does not reflect mainstream American values. But she suggested that he might reflect Republican values:
"While the entire Republican Party does not adhere to this statement, some of their policies can certainly be attributed to this line of thinking," Pelosi said. She suggested policies that "gut Medicaid, underfund public education, and ignore the challenges of working families" are divisive and racist.
Pelosi urged President Bush to "renounce this statement," and she said Bennett should apologize. "I encourage my Republican colleagues to join me on the floor to reject these words and to speak for a future of tolerance and equality," Pelosi said.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean called Bennett's remarks hateful, inflammatory and inexcusable.
"Are these the values of the Republican Party and its conservative allies?" Dean asked. "If not, President Bush, Ken Mehlman and the Republican Leadership should denounce them immediately as hateful, divisive and worthy only of scorn."
Dean also said Bennett should apologize immediately: "This kind of statement is hardly compassionate conservatism; rather, Bennett's comments demonstrate a reprehensible racial insensitivity and ignorance."
(White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters at a briefing on Friday, "The president believes the comments were not appropriate.")
Bennett, appearing on Fox News's "Hannity & Colmes" Thursday night, did not apologize but he did say his comments had been taken out of context.
Bennett noted that he called the abortion of black babies "morally reprehensible," but he did not specifically disavow the equating of blacks with crime.
Bennett did mention that the "causes of crime are very complicated," and that the subject has come up lately "in the context of New Orleans and other things."
Bennett also said it is standard practice to "put forward a hypothesis, a morally impossible hypothesis, to show why it is morally impossible and reprehensible."
"You put things up in order to examine them," Bennett told Alan Colmes. "I put it up, examined it, and said that is ridiculous and impossible no matter who advances that idea."
Bennett posted a transcript of his Hannity & Colmes interview on his website on Friday.
See Earlier Story:
Furor Over Republican's 'Black Baby' Abortion Comment (29 Sept. 2005)
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