March 13th, 2014
10:00 AM ET
4 months ago

Ryan's 'inner city' comments sparking backlash

Washington (CNN) - Rep. Paul Ryan said comments he made on a conservative radio program about people in inner cities not valuing the “culture of work” were “inarticulate.”

“I was not implicating the culture of one community-but of society as a whole,” Ryan said in a statement after fellow members of Congress pounced on his comments as being offensive and tinged with racism.

“The broader point I was trying to make is that we cannot settle for this status quo and that government and families have to do more and rethink our approach to fighting poverty,” Ryan said Thursday morning, one day after he made his controversial statements.

On Bill Bennett’s Morning in America program Wednesday, Ryan, who has become involved in the issue of poverty over the last year and a half, told Bennett there is a “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’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” added the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee.

In the radio interview, Ryan also referenced conservative author, American Enterprise Institute scholar, and self-described “right-wing ideologue,” Charles Murray, who wrote the controversial book “The Bell Curve,” which claims that black people have inferior intelligence and is the reason for social disadvantages.

“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,” Ryan said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office sent out an alert to reporters, calling his statements “shameful and wrong.”

Representative Barbara Lee of California took offense to Ryan’s statement. She put out a news release that said, “My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’”

“Mr. Ryan should step up and produce some legitimate proposals on how to tackle poverty and racial discrimination in America,” Lee added.

Ryan called Lee, also a member of the Budget Committee, Wednesday to discuss the issue.

Ryan’s remarks come a week after he released a report on poverty , where he analyzed 92 federal anti-poverty programs, concluding that are a confusing patchwork of often ineffective prescriptions to combating policy.

On Bennett’s radio program, Ryan, who's considering a bid for the 2016 GOP nomination, said beating poverty is not the job of government and called on people “to get involved” through non-profits or religious charities.

Ryan has embarked on a series of listening and learning tours of inner city poverty with Bob Woodson, the head of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, an organization that works with people on the outskirts of society.

Woodson, who is a former scholar at AEI, said Paul needs to stop listening to conservative scholars on the issue of poverty because their rhetoric “seeps into his speeches.”

“The only thing they are passionate about is the failures of the poor,” Woodson said, adding that Ryan should instead tell the stories of the people he’s met in the past year.

In Ryan's Wednesday radio interview, he discussed some of the same issues that President Barack Obama brought up late last month at an event at the White House,  where he announced "My Brother's Keeper" , a new initiative to help minority young men and boys succeed.

"No excuses. Government, and private sector, and philanthropy, and all the faith communities, we all have a responsibility to help provide you the tools you need. We've got to help you knock down some of the barriers that you experience," the President said. "But you've got responsibilities too."


Filed under: Paul Ryan
soundoff (371 Responses)
  1. The Real Tom Paine

    He should have stated there is a culture throughout the country, in urban and rural areas, where people accept welfare and poverty as their life. Picking one over the other invites backlash, and instead of approaching it from that direction, he choose the path of least resistance and made it about urban areas only because it plays well with the base. Stupid mistake, but it shows the blind spot of the GOP on poverty, and it makes this kind of clumsy statement inevitable. Are poor whites in poverty in Kentucky any less of a drag on our system as minorities in urban areas? Please.

    March 13, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  2. Jay

    Ryan needs to look into the mirror at himself

    March 13, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House

    Pretty much what Ryan was saying is that urban MINORITIES are lazy. That is the philosophy of Charles Murray. Does this jerk think people don't hear the dog whistle? Does he think people enjoy living in poverty? Paul Ryan has never lived in a ghetto and probably has never been to one. He probably grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth. Take this proverb with you Mr. Ryan: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

    March 13, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  4. smith

    There is culture problem with all aspects of americans, not just the inner cities. Laziness, violence, greed, and so on. However, its a free country.

    March 13, 2014 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  5. jpmichigan

    One usually practices, what one sees, and. the problem becomes worse, fueled by government subsided.

    March 13, 2014 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  6. Wake up People!

    Maybe if young non college educated blacks were given the same types of jobs that non-college educated whites were, just maybe more would be willing to work. But when the only job a black man can get is being a janitor or working fast food, you're not going to see the same results. I have watched this practice go on for years and it still is. White high school drop outs, with felonies are trained as machine operators or welders, while the black guy that did graduate high school is handed a broom, if he's even interviewed. There is a huge gap in how the races are treated. Even the court systems. Young blacks males have charge after charge heaped on them and charged with felonies for minor things like marijuana, while whites are basically given a slap on the wrist for things like heroin. Right now today, a young black man can still be tried by an all-white jury and that happens on a regular basis, right here in good Ole Klan-Michigan.

    So Ryan, what exactly do you plan to do to help??? Or did you say what you said to simply get your crowd on its feet?

    March 13, 2014 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  7. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Ryan has embarked on a series of listening and learning tours of inner city poverty..."

    While I applaud his willingness to "tour" inner city poverty, I wonder does he listen or does he tells these folks what they are doing wrong according to Saint Ryan?

    I suspect the following from this article states his "inner" mission:

    In the radio interview, Ryan also referenced conservative author, American Enterprise Institute scholar, and self-described “right-wing ideologue,” Charles Murray, who wrote the controversial book “The Bell Curve,” which claims that black people have inferior intelligence.

    “The common denominator of the underclass (is) increasingly low intelligence rather than racial or social disadvantage,” a summary of the book on the AEI website says.

    March 13, 2014 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  8. Tampa Tim

    Wrong way Ryan is trying to out stupid Cruz, Carson, and Hannity. This should move him up in republican favorability charts. Ryan benefited from government programs when his father passed away , and has been sucking at the federal teat his entire life.

    March 13, 2014 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  9. Carl Leonard

    Ryan’s remarks come a week afterhe released a report on poverty, where he analyzed 92 federal anti-poverty programs, concluding that are a confusing patchwork of often ineffective prescriptions to combating policy.

    Come on let's do some editing here!

    March 13, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  10. Fair is Fair

    There's also a slew of other reasons for poverty, Ryan... mental illness, poor education, household issues, and the list goes on ad nauseum. And as others have stated, it shows no geographic boundaries. Get a clue.

    March 13, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  11. ghostwriter

    Republican outreach efforts in action.

    Sorry folks.....they won't let you participate in outreach. Apparently, they are fine with the way things are.

    March 13, 2014 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  12. Sniffit

    "dignity of working"

    Haha. Someone should ask this prissy little plaything of the plutocrat class where the dignity is to be found in working 40-60 hours per week, frequently more than one job, and still earning so little that you have to struggle, and often rely on government assistance, to feed, clothe and shelter your family. But naaaaah, that would be a sensible follow-up question that a REAL journalist might ask...and, horror of horrors, it might hurt Plutocrat Pauly's fee-fees and make him less likely to give that person "access" for an interview in the future, so clearly, the obvious questions must be avoided.

    Besides...we'd have to wait for his answer...he's so very busy voting against increasing the minimum wage and cutting food stamps and opining that poor families who must rely on assisted school lunch programs don't really love their children....

    March 13, 2014 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  13. Lynda/Minnesota

    As a child living in the inner city during the 60s this man Paul Ryan worries me. He absolutely believes the crap he's mouthing for his base. Take away his well paying job and put him in an inner city environment; take away all contacts, all safety nets, all hope, and prove to us he's "got what it takes" beyond disgusting rhetoric.

    Yeah. I know. Not going to happen.

    March 13, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  14. Silence DoGood

    I see.
    When things are looking up, it is the CEO's and political leaders great vision or the church's inspiration.
    When things are bad, it is the fault of the poor and the workers.
    Tea Party: Cause trouble – no responsibility.

    March 13, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  15. Gurgyl

    --it should be "we failed to pass JOBS-BILL, the slogan we used for being elected in 2010, we are SORRY".

    March 13, 2014 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  16. The Real Tom Paine

    -Fair is Fair

    There's also a slew of other reasons for poverty, Ryan... mental illness, poor education, household issues, and the list goes on ad nauseum. And as others have stated, it shows no geographic boundaries. Get a clue.
    ***********************************
    I doubt he ever will. That was such a diappointing thing for him to say, and the way he chose to say it only made him look like the latest in a long line of tactless clowns talking about poverty as if it can be fixed with a pill and a motivational speaker. If the GOP is looking for a new Jack Kemp, they need to look a lot harder, because Ryan is not it.

    March 13, 2014 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  17. yolanda

    Whether Ryan addressed the problem in the "politically correct" way or not is debatable. But rather than acknowledge that the US has a poverty/culture problem (both rural and urban), posters like @Tampa simply continue to spew bile. Thanks for the consistency Timmy, you didn't disappoint.
    We have a president whose biracial heritage gives him great credibility in addressing inner city poverty and inequality. It is disheartening that he, until recently, has not made this issue a priority. Hopefully it will play a bigger role in the remainder of his second term.

    March 13, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  18. Sniffit

    He digs his hole deeper:

    "“This isn’t a race based comment it’s a breakdown of families, it’s rural poverty in rural areas, and talking about where poverty exists — there are no jobs and we have a breakdown of the family,"

    So, essentially, what he has now said is the following:

    inner city: "culture" of not wanting to work

    rural areas: there's just no jobs

    Any questions?

    March 13, 2014 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  19. Rudy NYC

    In the radio interview, Ryan also referenced conservative author, American Enterprise Institute scholar, and self-described “right-wing ideologue,” Charles Murray, who wrote the controversial book “The Bell Curve,” which claims that black people have inferior intelligence.
    ------------------------–
    When you call people who think like Charles Murray a scholars, no wonder you that would believe that liberals have causeed America to become more divisive. It's despicable that a supposedly respectable leading member of Congress, who is a former VP nominee and a potential future candidate for POTUS, would even believe something like this. If hood fits, then wear it, Paul.

    Now let's see how the rest of the right wing reacts to his despicable comments. I have no doubt that many will try to portray Parul Ryan as a victim of leftists attacks on his character. No one needs to attack Ryan. Just listening to him is enough.

    March 13, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  20. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    "On Bennett’s radio program, Ryan, who's considering a bid for the 2016 GOP nomination, said beating poverty is not the job of government and called on people “to get involved” through non-profits or religious charities."

    In other words, Ryan support community organizers.

    March 13, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  21. Sniffit

    Every dog in a 10 mile radius started barking when he said it. He's fooling nobody. Lee Atwater was horribly horribly wrong, Plutocrat Pauly: we know exactly what you mean and it's not at all "abstract" enough to hide it.

    March 13, 2014 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  22. FrankinSD

    So, how does Congressman Ryan account for the disproportionate share of Federal spending in red states, where there are very few urban areas? Has he never heard of rural poverty, the vast majority of which is white? Does he seriously think that educational and economic opportunity is evenly distributed across the country? Does he think, seriously?

    March 13, 2014 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  23. Joi Gibson

    This coming from a professional politician who gets everything he needs from the government and has relied on government services in the past to make a better life for himself- yet now wants to deprive others of the very same thing he benefited from. How many days a week is the House (or Congress) in session? This man works (if you can call it working) 2 days a week at his real job and then goes around disparaging those who work 40, 50, 60 hours a week just trying to make ends meet – let alone try to have health insurance-which I am sure Mr. Ryan takes for granted because after all, he has his government health insurance. This man is a hypocrite and has no class or soul.

    March 13, 2014 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  24. john p.

    there is no culture problem in Congress for sure,since they are crooks.

    March 13, 2014 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  25. amanda

    What he said was not untrue.

    The difference is the Government is responsible for putting this country into poverty by burning the tax money and stiffling growth through corporate monopoly politics.

    Kill the government and find freedom and riches. This country is rich by default..it's poor by choice.

    March 13, 2014 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15