Yesterday the Democratic Party sent out this fundraising appeal:
Subject: John, sign your name:
You won’t believe what Paul Ryan is saying to justify his radical agenda.
I should note that Ryan is one of the people, along with the Koch brothers and John Boehner, whose name is constantly invoked, and whose policy positions are consistently misrepresented, in order to scare Democrats into contributing money. So Ryan’s “radical agenda” is already a familiar theme to recipients of the email.
This week, Ryan told ultra-conservative radio host Bill Bennett that poverty in America is caused by a “culture problem” of “inner city” men too lazy to work. Ryan’s comments are plainly a dog-whistle to ugly racial politics.
Note that the inflammatory accusation here–”too lazy to work”–is not placed in quotation marks. There is a dog whistle here, and ugly racial politics are being played, but not by Paul Ryan.
And it gets worse: to back up his claim, Ryan cited Charles Murray, a prominent conservative academic who has argued that African-Americans are genetically less intelligent than whites and that poor people are “born lazy.”
The great social scientist Charles Murray was mentioned once in passing, along with Robert Putnam. Neither Ryan nor Bennett said anything about intelligence, let alone about being “born lazy” or “too lazy to work.”
If Paul Ryan and his Republican buddies are going to use thinly veiled racial attacks to justify their radical agenda, let’s tell them they’re the ones with the real “culture problem”:
Let’s get 100,000 strong denouncing Paul Ryan for this thinly veiled racial attack. Click here to automatically add your name >>
Did Ryan really engage in a “thinly veiled racial attack” in his interview on the Bill Bennett Show? Of course not. The segment lasted for around ten minutes. You can listen to it by clicking the “play” button below:
The conversation covered several topics, with the relevant discussion roughly in the middle. I created this summary of the discussion leading up to the part the Democrats are talking about. It was all about the importance of work:
Bennett — lifting people out of poverty — what is the plan?
Ryan — work works — it’s all about getting people to work — welfare reform of 90s — we were excoriated — it worked, but dozens of welfare programs were not reformed — they now make it harder for people to get into work — we call it a poverty trap — incentives not to work — not what we want — we need to reform welfare programs as in 1996 — try to get people into work force — want everyone to maximize potential, push for equality of opportunity —
— we have proven that work is important, there is dignity in it — self-worth — lots of people slipping through the cracks, not reaching their potential
Bennett — millenials are setting records in terms of not working — from Pew report — it’s partly the economy, partly policy — there is a cultural aspect — boys learn how to work from men
Ryan — lost my dad, mentors and my Mom taught me to work —
Bennett — fatherless problem is a big one
I created this transcript of the comments by Ryan that are the basis for the Democrats’ attack:
Ryan — absolutely — that’s the tailspin or spiral that we’re looking at in our communities — your buddy Charles Murray or Bob Putnam over at Harvard, those guys have written books on this, which is, we have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work — so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with. Everybody’s got to get involved. So this is what we talk about when we talk about civil society. If you’re driving from the suburb to the sports arena downtown by these blighted neighborhoods, you can’t just say “I’m paying my taxes, government’s going to fix that.” You need to get involved. You need to get involved yourself, whether through a good mentor program or some religious charity, whatever it is to make a difference, and that’s how we help resuscitate our culture.
The Democrats called this a “thinly veiled racial attack” and a “dog whistle to ugly racial politics.” These characterizations are absurd. In fact, Ryan was encouraging his listeners to get personally involved in mentoring “inner city” youth from “blighted neighborhoods” so that they can have “equal opportunity” and “reach their full potential.” While Ryan never mentioned race, no doubt many of the young people he urged his listeners to help are African-American.
The truth is Ryan is targeting millions of real people who are struggling to get back on their feet and find work.
This is utterly perverse. Ryan’s whole conversation with Bennett was about work. Far from “targeting people who are struggling to find work,” Ryan talked about ways of helping them — by reforming welfare programs that trap people in poverty, by contributing to religious charities, and by personally mentoring them to help them get to work and maximize their potential.
The first step is calling Ryan out. Add your name here:
The Democrats’ attack is completely dishonest, but they don’t care: as always, their object is to mislead their own followers, and thereby raise money.
That isn’t the end of the story, unfortunately. Yesterday, responding to attacks from all of the usual left-wing suspects (e.g., Al Sharpton) Ryan backed off from his wholly unobjectionable comments, calling them “inarticulate.” He added, “I was not implicating the culture of one community — but of society as a whole,” which doesn’t strike me as entirely accurate.
It’s too bad. Ryan actually said something in his interview with Bill Bennett that would have been a better response to the race-baiters:
Right now we have sort of a poverty management system, in many ways to the benefit of the managers. And so when you question the status quo … you get all the criticisms from the adherents of the status quo, who just don’t want to see anything change. We’ve got to have the courage to face that down, just like we did in welfare reform in the late 1990s, and if we succeed, we can help resuscitate this culture and get people back to work and get people back to meeting their potential, and so many things can get fixed and healed in our communities and in our economy as well.
Al Sharpton, for example, is an adherent of the status quo who howls at the prospect of change. Race-baiting has been very good to him. It’s too bad that Ryan didn’t have the “courage to face down” this latest round of false attacks from the Democrats.