March 13th, 2014
10:00 AM ET
6 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. Citizen-X

    How interesting that Paul Ryan and a scholar at the AEI have blamed poverty on intellect. Aren't these the same people who continue to enact laws that hold public schools and teachers responsible for student performance on standardized tests? For years, teachers have complained that such laws will punish public schools for simply being in a poverty stricken community but they will not solve the underlying problem. If Paul Ryan now believes that poverty is cultural in nature, then what does he propose to fix the problem, but given the conservative approach to solving social problems, I'm afraid to ask.

    March 13, 2014 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  2. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Wake up: "He said black men had inferior intelligence and were cowards, that they could never be fighter pilots. But they proved him wrong."

    Indeed. "They" also said women could never pilot a plane. The WWII Women's Airforce Service Pilots proved them wrong as well.

    Awful that we have to continue to fight these bigots year after year ... yes?

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

    I do so love the folks with intimate knowledge of how the inner city works. Or rather lack there of.

    You'd be amazed what happens when a little bit of opportunity comes to the inner city.

    March 13, 2014 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  4. Silence DoGood

    @baptist_deacon
    Conservatives don't use "code", so people should stop accusing them of their use. Just because Progressives use "code" doesn't mean everybody does.

    My opinion, the sick culture in the inner cities actually CAUSES low intelegence. I think if you took a baby born in the inner city and had him raised by suburbanites, the baby would grow up with a much higher IQ.
    -------------
    If Ryan was not speaking in code he would have said "I am afraid of non-white people and I think America is sinful and should become more conservative Christian like me and get rid of non-Christians."

    March 13, 2014 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  5. SCBAMA

    Truth hurts. How is what he said any different from the new OBama program recognizing this is an issue for inner city youth. He just paraded a group of young black men through the white house discussing this within the last 2 weeks. It is an inner city issue. Get your head out of the sand and don't shoot the messenger.

    March 13, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  6. Palintologist

    Excepting the brief period when he drove the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile for a summer job, "Lyin' Ryan" has been
    suckling on the Public Teat all of his life.

    March 13, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  7. Fr33th1nk3r

    If you doubt the veracity of his claims– look no further than the continent they came from for your proof.

    Apartheid, rape gangs, cannibalism, female genitalia mutilation, genocide, slavery, and clan warfare all all institutionalized practices there.

    If we allowed them completely free reign, our inner cities would look something like that.

    March 13, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  8. Rudy NYC

    What about the culture problem that exists in Ryan's culture?

    -The culture that puts down minorities as lazy thugs, who don't want to work. Yet, they would refuse the thug a job in a hearbeat.
    -The culture that favors imprisoning minor drug offenders, and then taking away their right to vote for the rest of their lives.
    -The culture that is currently undergoing an identity crisis of existential proportions.

    March 13, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  9. midLiberal

    So, Mr. Ryan, why aren't you holding any of your listening sessions about poverty in the inner-city areas of Wisconsin?

    March 13, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  10. Labman

    Why is it okay when some black leaders have said basically the same thing? I have worked in both the public and private sectors and have found that yes, there are many issues related to the poverty issue (whether it be urban, suburban, or rural.) However there is a cultural problem, which is maybe not the best word to use. Whether you are black, white, Hispanic, or Asian, people falling into this demographic need to start rethinking how they can be part of the solution instead of just blaming everyone and everything else. Don't get me wrong, I have seen many families ( and it usually is more of the traditional type of family) do everything in their, often with assistance, to better their lives, stress the importance of education ( which is not often stressed or fostered), and do whatever it takes.

    March 13, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  11. Oliver Dyer

    Once again we have an individual speaking about a culture he knows about only thru reports and opinions from those who only thinks as he does. As a product of an inner city culture, I 've seen those who have worked multiple jobs to get ahead or even just to maintain. I did not witness a culture of individuals not aspiring to work and get ahead. Yes there were some who did not seek employment as vigorusly as they should have.but they were the extreme mniority.

    We may live in the best country in world but let's not fool ourselves we are not all treated equally. Some will find it easier to movve ahead not because of their personal efforts but because of who/what they are. They will be given opportunities that others will not get. Mr Ryan is well aware that his terms carry a certain perception and he is cleary doing a disservice to this country by perpetuating it.

    March 13, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  12. Joe

    Dog Whistle Politics... Inner city residents caused the trillion dollar great recession when they were given too many home mortgages too. Right?

    March 13, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  13. Labman

    Sorry, " do everything in their power",

    March 13, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  14. W.K. Sexton

    Ryan, or any leading Republican for that matter, disparaging women, the poor and elderly is not news. The only "fire" they should come under is one from the 99 percenters in the fall elections. Bush put us in the Depression, and the GOP has said "No" to every proposal to bring us out...including Obama's plan to rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges two years ago. Infrastructure programs used to be approved on a bipartisan basis. If you want to know who Republicans do like...it's the wealthy contributors to their campaigns...such as...major oil companies, which continue to receive millions in taxpayer subsidies. Their headquarters are not in poor inner cities!!!! May God protect the poor He clearly favored in scriptures, which haven't been read and/or followed by many Republicans who claim to be Christians.

    March 13, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  15. Doug

    It is true that there are many areas in our country stuck in cycle of poverty, and in some cases where a culture of government dependence has developed. We need leaders to tell these sorts of hard truths as a first step towards addressing these issues.

    However, what I find so depressing about Ryan's comments is that he is doing the exact opposite. He is pretending that he is just being straight-talking, and telling the hard truths, even if politically incorrect. In reality, he is limiting his criticisms to those who are unlikely to vote for him anyway. We all know that issue with poverty and government dependence are not limited to the inner city. There are many rural areas that struggle with the same issues. So why is Ryan limiting his comments to the inner city?

    The reason is simple - rural impoverished areas are more likely to vote for him, so he is unwilling to challenge them. Instead, he is taking the us vs them approach of blaming our countries problems on the subset of poor people who weren't going to vote for him anyway, pretending that rural poor are all hard-workers out of a job, and inner city poor are all just lazy. It is not "straight talk" in you are only willing to challenge those on the other side. Leadership is being willing to tell the hard truths, even to your own base.

    March 13, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  16. Rudy NYC

    "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."
    ------------------------------------
    You left out the punch line in the report. Cut programs altogether and replace them with nothing.

    March 13, 2014 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  17. MikeinMT

    Sometimes the hammer head hits the nail and it just drives liberals to out of their minds crazy to admit there is more than a problem with cities like Detroit. In my opinion the inner city doesn't need to be fixed. Just let it continue to disintegrate into a pile of manure.

    March 13, 2014 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  18. Cee

    I read everything Ryan said and CNN actually watered things down because he sounded a lot more racist than they are making him out to be. Ryan did offer a solution to the issue of poverty...... Basically the government should do away with any programs that help the poor, the government should coddle the rich, and basically the rich should mentor poor people while trickling down money to those disadvantaged families. Yeah so Ryan thinks that this is Leave it to Beaver land where everyone is so nice and would spend their free time mentoring poor people..... Oh so Mr. Ryan you think those rich suburban folk who moved far far away from blacks in the inner city are going to come back and help us out of the kindness of their hearts(I'm black and from the inner city but live in the Burbs now)? LOL!!!!!!!!!!!! People than wounder why inner city kids don't even think of voting Republican. I mean what planet is this man from? I see wealthy people everyday stepping over homeless people on the street so I don't have much faith that your average rich guy is going to drive down to the projects on the weekends to help poor people figure out how to make it in America.

    March 13, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  19. wendel

    blah blah blah more repo nonsense

    March 13, 2014 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  20. JustMe

    If you even remotely believe this is true, you have no idea of what you're talking about. Driving past "the ghetto" does NOT make you an expert. For every one person "frauding" the system, there are a hundred people in need actually grateful for government aid. Rep Ryan should never had referenced that blatently racist author in the first place. Want to know the real truth that hurts? White people hate any mention of race and anytime it's brought up they cry "race card" and shove their heads in the sand. Reality is that there is a huge economic disparity between African-Americans and white Americans. It is rediculous that anyone can believe that as soon as the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted that blacks would immediately have the same access to education and careers as whites. Every day blacks have to defy stereotypes that portray them as inner-city trash. Inner-city blacks don't like being poor. They don't like working crap jobs for crap pay. They don't like having the worst school districts where schools don't have enough resources to effectively teach. Blacks want to work, but many can't get a job. Blacks may have political rights, but economic equality has yet to be achieved and it is mostly the system's fault. Take a history class at any university and they'll tell you the exact same thing. Unless you look at history (instead of telling people to forget it), you will never understand today's problems.

    March 13, 2014 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  21. yesorno

    Another dump (must be the GOP) white male who do not have clue about what black people do. He needs to go back and wash those clean dishes..

    March 13, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  22. coolguy

    because the manure will fertilize the country right? lol

    March 13, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  23. Bob Johnson

    He tried to make his point and obviously said it in a hurtful and derogatory way. However, the question still remains. Are people less intelligent because of their environment? I'd say yes. But that doesn't just apply to "inner cities". Go to the mountains of Appalachia, you'll see the same problem. Poor, undereducated people, same as the "inner cities". Perhaps that is what Ryan should concentrate on is ALL poverty.

    March 13, 2014 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  24. robert

    I did some research of my own on the question of which party has done a better job growing the economy? Since 1961, there have been 50 years of governance by one party or the other. Under the Democrats, per capita GDP grew by an average of 5.56% per year and under the Republicans 6.023%. That doesn’t seem like a big difference. If compounded over 50 years, per capita GDP would be 41% higher under the Republicans.

    Of course, there are a good many other ways the financial health of an economy could be judged I am sure, e.g., income distribution, debt to GDP, % living in poverty etc.

    So I looked at the poverty rates going all the way back to the Nixon/Ford administration. Poverty fell by an average of -9.27% in the Democratic administrations and rose 0.59% in the Republican administrations.

    So Republicans can make the claim that they have done a better job of growing the economy. While Democrats have done a better job of lifting people out of poverty.

    March 13, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  25. Enough is Enough

    So, what I take from progressive comments here is that the truth hurts. Inner cities have had trillions of dollars poured into them to improve education and reduce poverty....and nearly all of it has been wasted. If you want to improves the lives of those in the inner cities and elsewhere) you can do it by demanding that people self-sufficient. Stop the 72% out of wedlock birth rate. Stop holding out athletes and other celebrities who can't string three words together using proper English in order to form a sentence. Parents need to step up and be parents – not friemds – of their children. It will take time and effort, however, this can be turned around. Don't shoot the messenger simply because you don't like the message.

    March 13, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
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