March 13th, 2014
10:00 AM ET
9 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. sally

    Just let the white people figure this one out. They are better at determining what's racist or not. Paul Ryan was rejected once so enough said

    March 13, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  2. george s.

    Having come out of the hills of WVA I wonder why Mr. Ryan did not mention areas of this state and , TN, KY, MS. Many of the people in these states have relied on government handouts for years. Some have never held a job and never will

    March 13, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  3. The Real Tom Paine

    -Reggie53

    Ryan did not state "black" in his comments. He said people living in inner cities....are you telling me that only black people live in inner cities? Here goes the democrats and their racial nonsense again. Then I will say to my black people......you do not think too much of yourselves if you feel that only blacks live in the inner cities. You better get some ambition in your lives....because I did and I do not live in the cinner cities. The democrat party is responsible for keeping our black people in the inner cities with the government freebies instead of giving them jobs. And not affirmative action jobs either.........you get the job you are qualified for and not what affirmative actions says you should get. They should be encouraging you to stay in school and get a good education instead of giving you that monthly government check. The democrats are keeping us black people poor and that is why I do not support them. I am a proud republican and I am out of the inner cities. My people had better smarten up and get a hold of their lives. This is another form of slavery being handed out by the democrat party.
    ***************************
    Well, isn't that special? Nice that you have such a high regard for the community you came from. Why did you not stay and build your community, or did you find that to be too difficult a task? Seems like the only slavery you suffer from is cultural embarrassment. Before you start, I'm Irish, and we had our own road to getting out of the slums: difference is, I never forgot where I came from. You seem to be looking for amnesia, my friend.

    March 13, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  4. rbudl

    I believe we should be our brothers keeper...with help finding a job, so one can be proud of what they have earned.

    March 13, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  5. JimmyJam

    End mass incarceration 'cause hardly anyone will hire a convicted felon. What are they supposed to do, starve?

    March 13, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  6. Big_D

    Ryan doesn't have contempt for black people he has contempt for all poor people. I mean they have failing schools and they pay higher taxes for them but it's their fault they don't move away from their poverty. Seems totally rational to Republicans.

    March 13, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  7. Tracy

    DB

    "but we all know that's exactly what you meant and you must think the American people are incredibly stupid if you think anybody is going to believe this spin control."

    No that is what YOU ment DB. Don't try to pawn off you outrage by ignoring YOUR "see color first" BS politicially correct mentality.

    March 13, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  8. Nate

    Grasping at straws here. Give me a break. Maybe any elected official with the term Republican after their name shouldn't speak at all. Everything is scrutinized to the nth degree to find anything Dems can pounce on. "SEE I told you!" It feels like kids in a playground.

    March 13, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  9. Wake up People!

    Reggie, a black republican was paid to go state to state getting affirmative action abolished. And for the record AA was a good thing, it gave minorities a slightly level playing field. Now it's very much uneven again.

    But we know, that's the way it should be right?

    March 13, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  10. bcrunner

    @Dr Cole: But what is Ryan's solution? His budget gives tax cuts to corporations and the 1% and cuts everything else!!

    March 13, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  11. kevin

    He told the truth, let the chips fall where they may.

    March 13, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  12. Rudy NYC

    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.
    -------------------–
    I wonder why Woodson is "former scholar" at AEI. I'm getting the impression that Woodson didn't agree with the conservative scholars enough.

    March 13, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  13. Islesfan

    So let me get this straight.Paul Ryan agrees with the President,Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Lee by saying that African American "Inner city" youth lag behind other races in education and skills to obtain better jobs.But it is suddenly "shameful and wrong" and a "thinly veiled racial attack" when the words are uttered by a Conservative Congressman.Are you kidding me?

    March 13, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  14. Alina1

    Who cares? The GOP will call people anything but human names, in reword they will get the Senate anyway.

    March 13, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  15. fhc1983reunion

    Facts are facts-he stated inner city and did not comment on race. It is a true fact that inner city children do not do well in school. It is also a fact that blacks and Hispanics ARE behind. In addition, whites are behind Asians in academics. Facts are facts. There is no news story here at all. The black and Hispanic communities need to get their rear ends in gear and make school and work a priority. Last fact-the democrats enable all the welfare recipients. No more medicaid, no more food stamps, no more free breakfast and lunch in schools. It would quickly stop the poor from being reckless and having kids because the can and someone else pays the bills!

    March 13, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  16. RichardLB

    Ryan can try to re-spin what he said as something less offensive, the genie is out of the bottle. "..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."

    I'd respect him more (I don't respect him at all) if he actually stood behind that comment rather than try to re-spin it to something softer toned. Own up to what is said.

    Still, I do think his comment was misplaced. It is a perception issue ("Blame those lazy poor people") when a more realistic view is that there are a "few bad apples spoiling the bunch." He should be focusing on fixing the perception, identifying the real problem, and working towards helping. Understand that poverty, abusers of the system, and so forth, will never go away.. you just don't want that to grow to become the new normal.

    March 13, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  17. McBob79

    Well, he's right. It's not really all that debatable. What I find hysterical is the double standard. Florida congressional candidate Alex Sink said that we need immigration reform so we have people who will do landscaping and clean hotel rooms. Not a peep from the media on that one. Ryan says what everyone knows is true and CNN makes it front page.

    March 13, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  18. Langley Wickersham

    Are you serious! I am tired of "right wingers" and so called "conservatives" blaming all of the problems on the poor people and the minorities of this country. What about all the "welfare money" white farmers get from the government for not growing crops. What about all the "well fare money" corporations get to take their jobs over seas. What about all the "welfare money" banks got after their bailout. What about the "welfare money" big oil gets every year! Majority of welfare recipients live in the country and in rural areas (AKA the red states) Conservative is getting close to equaling Bigot in my book. Giving poor kids a hot meal is not responsible for the downfall of this country. Its all this hypocritical BS!

    March 13, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  19. cedaly1968

    I get what he is saying, not sure why he is aiming his comments just at blacks. The federal government has ridiculous amounts of data on this subject, why don't they use it? If you have "generations" of people on welfare, that should be terminated, immediately. Even if you are physically incapable of working, the government was never designed to be a generational handout. There should be limits put on welfare in terms of real dollars and "term limits" and once those are met, you should be off the system. I'm not suggesting the limits are low, probably 5-6 years, but I am suggesting they should occur. I live in an urban area that is "gentrifying" and what the congressman says is not all wrong. What he neglected to point out is that this issue exists in other areas too and among other ethnic groups.

    March 13, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  20. Jeff

    “tailspin of culture, . . . , of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

    If you take out the "inner cities" comment, it almost looks as if Rep. Ryan is talking about Congress. Maybe he should start there with his tailspin of culture.

    March 13, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  21. guest

    until the right wing acknowledges that black people as a whole have systematically been pushed into these 'inner city' settings, and systematically been forced to live on what rich white people would consider the scraps of society, systematically held back in education opportunities in those urban settings, and systematically been beaten down and imprisoned by the government by various 'war on' policies; they should just shut the heck up about inner city problems.

    They only seek to proliferate the inner city situations to tinge black people as a whole and blame the very oppression systematically forced on them by 'white superiority' culture on the people struggling to get by. If you want to help, you have to understand that people will take many many generations to recover from the systematic set backs forced, and still being forced on them. If you want to help, stop making government policy designed to continue to set inner city dwellers back. Invest in their education, invest in provided real opportunities for people to move up and out of the trap. Do not continue to cut education budget, and give tax breaks to the rich, and fight another 'war on some situation we as white people created for inner city youth'. Do that and in a few generations we wont have a 'inner city' problem like exists now.

    March 13, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  22. rick3807

    If we assume that Mr. Ryan is correct about the culture, one of the best ways to redirect the culture is with jobs and education. Just what has Mr. Ryan and the GOP congress done to advance those issues. Vote to repeal Obamacare over 40 times, Benghazi hearings, IRS hearings, birthers.....?

    March 13, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  23. John Illinois

    The Real Tom Paine – How is this the problem of anyone else except the inner city people???? It is not my fault or my problem that they refuse to behave, commit crimes, destroy their neighborhoods, etc. They keep stealing my money to fix the damage they cause, which everyone is sick of, but this is THEIR problem and THEY need to fix it!

    March 13, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  24. Lynda/Minnesota

    Dominican mama 4 Obama
    @ Lynda Minnesota
    Hello there!
    Hope you had a chance to read my thank you post yesterday.
    But if you did not: my sincerest thanks my friend.
    ----------

    No, I'm sorry but I must have missed it. I've been having problems with my computer the last few days; its at least 8 years old now and on its last legs. Ah, well. Time for new technology.

    And hey. I love you, girl.

    March 13, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  25. Yora Nidiot

    it's sad that the truth like this is always turned around into being a thing of racist. IF MORE BLACK MEN WORKED it could and would build stronger families and safer societies. But no one has the balls to say it, especially if you're African. The blacks in power in America don't have the brains to fix the ghetto problems. So don't blame it on white guys who see it as it is. Pathetic

    March 13, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
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