March 13th, 2014
10:00 AM ET
5 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. 2 Km N of G Zero

    The only other person I know who read Murray's book had the empathy of a sociopath.
    I hope Ryan doesn't believe in Murray & Herrnstein because It's a bit like the Soviets clinging to Trofim Lysenko's work because it had the correct ideological alignment.

    March 13, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  2. Wake Up And Smell The Coffee

    When a politician actually speaks the truth, you crucify him.

    Very simply, most inner city youth wont finish high school, as a result they should be required to learn a vocation/job skill of their interest and the govt should offer these classes free of charge in every major city. There are many teenagers that don't flourish in a standard class, that would flourish and be interested in a vocation.
    Teach them how to fish.....idiots!

    March 13, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  3. Fair is Fair

    Gurgyl

    Blah, blah, black sheep, have you any wool, yes, sir, yes, sir three bags full.....same old repo rants, I pity.
    --------
    Another hard-hitting, thought-provoking, profound comment. Kudos.

    March 13, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  4. stevetaller

    Still a clown. Did this guy just get too many beatings as a kid, or not enough? One thing is for sure, he's a horrible legislator and a not very sharp human being.

    March 13, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  5. arnold stang

    The GOP feel that there problem is that they are not doing a good job of getting there message out. I think there are doing a great job of getting there message out.

    March 13, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  6. Fair is Fair

    Mark P

    Next time a clueless senator from rural Wisconsin spouts off about culture, he'd better be talking about making cheese!
    --------
    I'm sorry... what senator are you speaking about?

    March 13, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  7. Tampa Tim

    There have been trillions of tax dollars poured into red states, and yet they have the highest uninsured percentage, highest poverty, and highest rates of heart disease, lowest education, ... Oh never mind.

    March 13, 2014 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  8. bhj

    Look, Ryan has a point here. Maybe it wasn't the most tactful approach, but he's right. There are major cultural issues in our inner cities. There are always people who will take offense to this because, well, that is their place in life. To be butt hurt about as much as possible.

    Keep in mind it's the people taking offense that turned it into a race issue, NOT Ryan. He stated it's a cultural issue which is true.

    To the blowhard blasting him about not knowing since he's from Wisconsin...take a look at some neighborhoods in Milwaukee, chief. Even Janesville and Beloit have their issues.

    March 13, 2014 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  9. Peter

    So how does this fool explain the fact that my two best and smartest software engineers are black?

    March 13, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  10. cboy704

    When there are black people putting down other black people for doing well in school as "trying to be white." There is a problem.

    When a black person who tries to overcome life's obstacles is chastised by others in the community (and sometimes even within the family), as trying to be better than everyone else, there's a problem.

    I've had friends growing up, who's family and classmates tried to bring them down for wanting to study to make a better life for themselves.

    I think to a small extent it is a culture issue...

    March 13, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  11. thebrohican

    And another thing. The problem with America, when groups can be divided, their problems can be pointed to as their problem. If there is a problem affecting Americans, it is an American problem. Ryan is pointing his finger, but has never done a thing to help "those people over there" who are so different, whom I've never met, but know so much about.

    For a potential "leader" this is unacceptable.

    March 13, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  12. rs

    At the end of the day, Mr. Ryan is claiming that the meager amounts of money and programming the poor Americans in our cities is some sort of financial abuse- but giving oil companies subsidies that go straight to the bottom line- well, that's obviously somehow good.

    Look, for the Right this isn't about money (because they sure know how to waste it), it is about ensuring a sizable portion of American citizens are treated badly, given lives with no hope, or apparent value. They become the things we must fear- so that the NRA can sell weapons unfettered, and we can justify low, low wages to keep WalMarts profitable.

    March 13, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    Funny, how a guy that maybe works 100 actual days in a year talks about how other people are not putting in enough effort. Has anyone looked at how many days off these politicians have each year. It is the same hypocritical nonsense as when they have lifetime government paid healthcare and then rant and rave about the socialization of healthcare through the ACA. You have to be extremely uniformed to believe anything coming from this mans mouth.

    March 13, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  14. critical thinking

    Uh Mark, Paul Ryan is a Congressman, not a Senator. Think before you spout!
    ---------------------------------------

    @Mark P

    Next time a clueless senator from rural Wisconsin spouts off about culture, he'd better be talking about making cheese!

    March 13, 2014 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  15. EdFromFallsChurch

    Ummmm ... so let's see. Rep Ryan said the same thing that President Obama said a few weeks ago when he announced his "Brother's Keeper" initiative to help young black men. An announcement he made in an inner city venue.

    Therefore Paul Ryan is a racist?

    This is why we can't have a disucssion of race in this country.

    March 13, 2014 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  16. Tampa Tim

    Yo! Landa – I am still looking through your posts for your solutions, and can't find any. But I am pleased you have toned down your negativity.

    March 13, 2014 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  17. VotingBLKAmerican (yes were alive)

    WHY on earth would it not be a 'backlash'. I mean he (Ryan) speaks like a true full blown RACIST so why would that be ok from someone in Congress (supposedly representing the American people).

    March 13, 2014 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  18. iamthewheel

    He spoke the truth! You people can't handle the truth! At least Paul has a pair! Hi Ho!

    March 13, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  19. Tampa Tim

    As for solutions, it is safe to say that Ryan has none. Typical divisive republican.

    March 13, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  20. Eugenia Kinney

    Non-profits can't solve the problem nor individuals without help from the government. The main problem with Ryan and others like him is they just don't understand how to come up with new ideas and let go of old ideas. They are still living in the past and talking about poverty in the same way as in the past. It does not get to the real problem of inequality in America and what we should begin doing about that problem. Blaming the inner city men won't solve anything.

    March 13, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  21. Mary

    Why is it suddenly in vogue to spew hatred, bigotry, and divisiveness in America? What do these fools hope to accomplish by this except to create an environment in which people attack each other?

    March 13, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  22. Beth

    He said what everyone knows to be true. The problem is you guys don't know what the innercity IS...it's the ghetto.

    March 13, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  23. Joe User

    I don't care for Mr Ryan but he speaks the truth on this one. Bill Cosby said the same thing a few years back and the African American community reacted the same way. The inner city ills are a problem in this country and they will never be solved if people are demonized for speaking the truth about them.

    March 13, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  24. sly

    The Tea Party evolved from the John Birch Society and the KKK, and yes, 90% of them are racists.

    That party is the extreme equivalent of Occupy America – a flash in the pan that is now done.

    You won't see any Tea Party victories in November, as the Republicans begin to rebuild for 2020.

    March 13, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  25. Tampa Tim

    Fortunately for Ryan, there must not be any minorities or poor people in Janesville.

    March 13, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
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