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. Reeb

    Ryan gets my vote. Born and raised in NYC, 35+ yrs. Never again.

    March 13, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  2. bcrunner

    @Yolanda: I have been reading your posts for a long time lady! And, you have never defended the president - no matter what he does, it's wrong. And, by the way, in order for the president to really succeed, he needs a functioning oposition and one that does not say No to just about everything....

    March 13, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  3. Uncle Sam

    Politicians can not wait to slice and dice what other politicians say, even if it true. They know they are safe in calling him out on this, because of the history associated with it. I know plenty of people from various races that are independent, intelligent and morally responsible. And we all know plenty who are not. It is a disservice to the community to create victims of society to further your political agenda.

    March 13, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  4. kd

    Interesting how the 'truth' is always vilified. This isn't rocket science. There's a reason why poverty exists, so let's not fool ourselves.

    March 13, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  5. Peter

    The inner cities have always been dangerous. When I was growing up, the Irish hoodlums controlled my block.

    This has NOTHING to do with the intelligence of blacks. I know plenty of bright. accomplished black people.

    This has to do with the culture of poverty and the dangerous environment of a gritty, urban neighborhood.

    March 13, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  6. Government Waste Rules

    HOW DARE HE?!! There is NOTHING wrong with the culture of inner cities! It's all about hope and change!!!

    March 13, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  7. Darrell

    Mr. Ryan once again just show the stupidity coming from the teabagging republicant left. No information given on how to fix a problem for all our citizens. Just another grandeous way he can play to his base of idiots. Ghostwriter you are correct in talking about similarities. It's where you live and are forgotten that makes the person. He and his party of no just likes to pander to lowest common denominator in people...lets just keep stirring the pot, It just may boil over on you.

    March 13, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    The Taxman

    Fully agree with Ryan here. It is an Inner City problem – not a black problem, but a cultural problem with folks set up to fail and to blame others for their failure. The key is to take government out of the equation and let non-profits and churches help the poor in these communities. These folks need to take care of themselves, not be taken care of. It is the old Give a man a fish vs. Teach a man to fish routine. ... ... ....
    -----------------------–
    Ryan's solution is to actually stop teaching people how to fish. Many people don't work for no better reason than the fact that society doesn't want to hire them. It is common practice for companies to turn away anyone with a conviction. They turn away all of the long term unemployed. They turn away people who have bad credit, or no credit records at all. If those are the culture problems that Ryan is talking about, then I would agree with him. Unfortunately, he cited a bigot who's seems to be well respected in Ryan's culture.

    March 13, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  9. Alpha Deus

    Considering his job is part time at best, he gets money for doing nothing or anything, he gets 'bribes' day in and day out and is still working out his tax pan from 2012 that he said was too detailed to explain back then...he doesn't understand the policy of his party when they get power of keeping peoples incomes so low they cant afford anything other then food even working full time, so the states get little to invest in education and so push the educations levels lower and lower while the wages get lower so ryans friends get an ever cheaper work force

    March 13, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  10. Lars

    Nature or nurture; more intelligent or less intelligent; inner city suburbs.....People like Ryan and those who speculate in this fashion about the causes of poverty, and a lack of opportunity within American society is either naïve or just pretending ignorance.

    The reality is that non-minorities within this country have at least a 238 year head-start on people of color when it comes to economic opportunity

    March 13, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  11. DirtyHeat

    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).
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________

    It's gotten to the point that anybody who criticizes anything about inner city culture is in your mind, a full blown racist. Take a look around the inner cities. Are you honestly going to try and pretend there are no cultural problems that need fixing, not only with black people but the inner city as a whole? Turning a blind eye to part of the problem helps nobody.

    March 13, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  12. dr. vinny boombotts

    What'd he say that was wrong? There IS a culture problem. People that try to bring themselves up and out of the ghetto by means other than drug dealing or NBA contracts are 'Uncle Toms'. They actively discourage self improvement by shaming each other when not acting ghetto and gangsta. I am no fan of the GOP, but the statement is spot on. Jesse and Al would do well to recognize the dysfunction in their own community and make attempts to make it straight instead of calling criticism racism.

    March 13, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  13. jack2

    Don't point out what's really wrong because you will be attacked. They want you to lie to them so they don't have to face reality.

    March 13, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  14. Jim

    So much for expaning the message from the right.

    March 13, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  15. Rosa

    Representative Lee said Ryans comment were a thinly veiled racial attack. The comments were not veiled at all, it was a direct racial attack but that is what the people listening to that show wanted to hear.
    Ryans solution for poverty, cut government programs and give more tax breaks to the wealthy will not solve the problem.

    March 13, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  16. humtake

    It's time people start learning that just because something may be racist, stereotypical, controversial, etc. doesn't mean it's not true.

    March 13, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  17. Tommy in Wilton

    GAME OVER for Paul Ryan and national elected office!

    Good-

    March 13, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  18. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    ThinkAgain-Don't Like Congress, salty dog, Rudy NYC and others, a heartfelt "thanks" for your support.

    March 13, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  19. Lynn

    I am in NO WAY surprised by these comments. Poverty is not "just" an inner city problem. This failing economy has thrust many hard working people into poverty. Its unfair to blame the problem on inner city dwellers. However, there is a problem with certain segments of society not work; black, white, brown, and others, that should be addressed. Ryan simply adds to the stereotyping of certain people, which should be beyond him as a senator. What solutions does he offer? Has he really gone into these communities and talked one-on-one with any of these family members? He wants people to work but will do anything to block raising the minimum wage. He and his party doesn't want the uninsured to have affordable healthcare which might help a struggling, ill person, get back on his/her feet and find employment. In my opinion, Ryan is just another insensitive, uncaring, Republican senator with blinders on.

    March 13, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  20. Jon

    Hey ghostwriter actually been to a real city? My wife and I are both white, hold graduate degrees and are in top 3% in income and ive in the city (Philly). We are no alone. Many others, from different cultures, in many sections in the city, are sucessful and with kids who are well educated and responsible. Blame the inner cities? Please. We got our poor sections and problems like anyone else, but I know plenty of folks that Paul Ryan is talking about in the burbs.

    March 13, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  21. EndlessBlockade

    African American democrats constantly talk about this same problem, why is he racist all of a sudden for agreeing with them?

    March 13, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  22. Tim Blackwell

    So the inner cities are good places then?

    March 13, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  23. Jerry

    If it looks like a duck, quacks like duck, IT'S A DUCK..!!
    Dems and Libs always want to "play nice" and not hurt someone's self asteem.
    Well, WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD!!
    We have had generational welfare going on for years but more prevelant when Dems are in office.

    March 13, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  24. timo

    He is correct. I lived in Chicago years ago, and he is 100% correct. You listen to people gripe about crime and violence but refuse to do anything about it. They won't help clean up their own neighborhoods or try and keep their children out of gangs much less eliminate the gangs. "No Snitchin" means the gangs and criminals get a free ride. It has to start at home. Raise the children to abhor violence and gangs. Teach them a work ethic and to stand on their own and not expect someone else or society to carry them. No gov't or individual can do these things if you as a parent/family member refuse to do so.

    March 13, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  25. jack2

    This article is like the liberal press throwing out a bone for the liberals to chew on. They love a feeding frenzy over a trumped up bunch of nothing.

    March 13, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
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