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

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“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. Bruce Eder

    Sorry if anyone's feelings were hurt, but Ryan - however unartfully - spoke the truth. Generations of welfare culture and the best (and worst) intentions of the liberals have pretty much destroyed a lot of inner city neighborhoods.

    March 13, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  2. larkwoodgirl

    How like Paul Ryan to point our the problems and not offer a single solution.

    March 13, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  3. rosethornne

    Oops, another GLOP accidentally telling the truth about what he really thinks.
    That always gets them in trouble.

    March 13, 2014 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  4. Big_D

    Sounds like the entire state of NE to me, not the inner cities. Even when they do work they do it under the table so they don't have to pay taxes.

    March 13, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  5. sisterchef

    This racism isn't veiled. When you quote Charles Murray, you are taking a stand, whether or not everyone understands the reference. This is racist code talk, head nodding, wink-wink speak. This is Paul Ryan and his fellow racists, talking outloud.

    March 13, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  6. guest

    This is their way of life and have no concept of getting a job because all of these goodies will go away.


    I am guessing you have never eaten the food you can buy with government assistance. Nobody in their right mind would call that 'goodies' if they have had to live on it. All those goodies like draconian police activity and 25 year old text books handed down from suburban white schools.

    March 13, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  7. Deirdre

    The fact that these comments are racist should be no surprise. The Koch Brother's, who fund the Tea Party candidates, Americans for Prosperity and their other groups, didn't fall to far from the tree. Their father shared the same political views. In fact, he was one of the founding members of the John Birch Society. In case you didn't know, the John Birch Society opposed civil rights because the blacks were a large part of a Communist plot to take over the country. Uh, yeah, get your tin foil hats out everyone. Basically, they are against anything that could possibly threaten their MONEY in any way, shape or form. That includes liberals, intellectuals, public schools (?) and anyone else THEY consider a threat to America. To bad they don't recognize they are the real threat. With people like Ryan doing their bidding. They still believe we are back in the McCarthy era. They have their own witch hunts going on all over this country. They are turning neighbor against neighbor. Americans for Prosperity, Koch Brothers, the Tea Party/GOP and their cronies are the real enemies of this country. Let them know that we won't take this witch hunt any longer. Vote them out in November!!!

    March 13, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  8. mwerickson91

    Paul's comments are spot on. Yes there is poverty in other areas of the country but no one can deny this is far more concentrated in the inner cities. Kids (regardless of race) are being brought up with knowledge of how to use the government. It is supposed to be "assistance" not a way of life!

    I saw there was a "mass incarceration" comment here. This implies some entity (the government) is somehow purposely only arresting people of a certain race. Again, this is pointing the finger at someone other than the person responsible. Don't break the law, you won't get incarcerated. Pretty simple.

    March 13, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  9. GWP

    It's about that the phony P.C. crap ends. People like Lee thrive on it. Keep the truth coming. Get off the government gravy train and support yourselves.

    March 13, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  10. JC

    Definition of a gaffe: when a politician accidentally tells the truth.

    March 13, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  11. Rudy NYC

    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
    If more black men and women were hired, then it would build stronger families. Why can't they find jobs? Lack of quality education is a definite problem, and the recent trend towards charter schools doesn't help. Criminal records for minor violations like pot posession. No credit record or current bank account. There are many reasons that are beyond their control, most particularly the number one reason. ... the color of their skin.

    This land has been settled mainly by Europeans for the past 400 years. The first 250 of those years saw this country grow on the backs and hard efforts of these lazy black people called slaves.

    March 13, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  12. LordNikon

    For all of those posting that this is the Demoncrats splitting hairs by saying that only black people live in the inner city, and that it is the Democrats that have and keep inner city people down... You need to get better educated. This is one of the most bipartisan problems our country has. This is republican as much as it is democrat. And it is about keeping minorities down. When Ryan says inner city, he means minority. Don't fool yourselves into believing he isn't. And if you would like to know how bipartisan this problem truly is, read The New Jim Crow. And then come back and respond.

    March 13, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  13. YoonYoungJo

    If there is going to be serious discussion about rewarding hard work then the Government needs to step in and provide extra incentive. Like if someone works over the 40 hours, maybe the Government matches employers time and a half and it goes into the persons myRA. Just as the government provides subsidies and incentives when they want to lite businesses into a certain action. The same must be done to encourage hard work.

    March 13, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |

    I guess 'people in inner cities' are using the do nothing congress as a role model. Maybe if congress would put their party policyaside, "we can’t agree with the President on anything, and pass some of his ideas even if it helps the economy. " We can't do anything that might make the President look good. We need a occupy capitol hill until congress cut their pay to minimum wage with no overtime, cancel any health the government provides, stop all campaign contributions ,cancel all government retirement provided to congress ans theow th lobbiest out of town.

    March 13, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  15. michael

    And this is why the inner cities will continue to wallow in crime, poverty and degradation. The blacks in power do nothing about the problem and whenever a white person says anything and I mean anything about it they are instantly labeled a racist. Paul Walker should give his finger to Nancy Pelosi and stand by what he said. We all know what he meant.

    March 13, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  16. Needs to Go!

    This is the guy that authored the Bill to screw over our Veterans. So he hates Veterans and is a bigot, why is he still in office? He needs to go!

    March 13, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  17. TheObserver

    Whoa, weird! A Republican said something racially insensitive! This NEVER happens. If all else fails he can find a home in Arizona or Mississippi or Texas and he'll be fine.

    Regardless of whether Mr. Ryan was implicating black people specifically, poverty is the real issue, and it's the issue that BOTH parties continually neglect. Repub/Demo or otherwise, poverty is largely unaddressed.

    In the USA, more than 25% of ALL CHILDREN (those 18 and under) live BELOW the poverty line. That number has been rising for many years and continues to rise. One QUARTER of our future workforce is growing up poor, unsupported, malnourished, and under-educated.

    About 95% of the economic gains made by the US since the beginning of the Great Recession (and after the taxpayers bailed out said companies) have been by those in the Top 5% of earners, with (YET AGAIN) the lions share of THAT 95% going to those inside the Top 1%. If one were to look at line graphs of economic mobility you'd see a flat line tilting upward ever so slightly from the lowest bracket of earners and continuing on a basically flat path until you reach the rightmost part of the graph, right around the top 3% where you will see the line start to bend sharply upward to a near vertical position by the time you're at the Top 1%. What it means is this: It means that anyone from the 0th percentile earner all the way up to about the 97th percentile earner will have to work equally hard to move up in income to the next quartile. Meaning it's just as hard to go from DIRT POOR to working class as it is to go from working class to middle class. As a matter of fact, it's almost impossible. If anyone in the (quickly disappearing) middle class is wondering, "Hey why haven't I seen any help since the recession has started to rebound?" The answer is, "Nobody has seen any of that financial rebound except those in the Top 1%. As a matter of fact once you're inside that Top 3 or 4%, it's almost impossible for you NOT to become richer.

    You know what else helped all those companies? When our tax money bailed them all out a few years ago! You know what else helps those companies? The labor they pay half as much for in Bangladesh, VIetnam, and India. You know what else helps those companies? The fact that they pay barely a fraction of the corporate taxes they used to, before they bought the politicians (In 1950 about 1/3 of American tax revenue was corporate taxes, currently it's LESS than 1/10th)

    So why neglect poverty then? What's their motivation? Well, they don't have to worry about human capital being lost because any manual labor, or entry-level jobs go to southeast asia where its cheaper (because companies are far from the watchful eye of America and can treat their employees inhumanely). Poverty perpetuates ignorance and leads to crime and drug offenses, and how else will America keep minorities incarcerated unless the ghettos still exist? (about 2% of Americans are incarcerated, a drastically higher number than any other country on Earth). Hmmmm, I don't know, I guess it seems like, as long as the same problems persist, we will continue to rely on...... wait for it..... politicians to solve our problems for us.

    Just like JFK said, "Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country's leaders can do to favor people in your financial situation." -– Oh, wait....

    Right now the ONLY reason the 1% have ANY ground to stand on is because the MIDDLE CLASS still has their head so far up their @$$ that they think the bottom 99% are the problem.

    Network News = Rich people paying other rich people to convince middle class people to blame poor people.

    So far it's working.

    This is the world we live in.

    March 13, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  18. Pander Bear

    Right wing dog whistle to the base: The problem is lazy Negroes!

    Disgusting comments from the disgusting right wing.

    March 13, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  19. Marie MD

    "Inner city" means blacks are drug dealers and living in ghettos to the teaklans. There are also poor whites living alongside them.
    "Rural" means what to them? There are a lot of white families living in poverty in rural areas and the South is full of them.
    They also collect social security, welfare, food stamps, just like any other American in need. Remember you also did after your daddy died?
    It's all about the color of the skin, isn't?

    March 13, 2014 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  20. David

    What Congressman Ryan said is sad, but it's also absolutely true. This is exactly why we have such a divide between ideologies, political parties, races, cultures, etc. in our society. Conservatives are simply forbidden from starting a dialogue about why a smaller percentage of black Americans seek and/or value employment than other race groups, adjusted per capita. If a conservative brings up this topic, he or she is automatically deemed a racist. That, right there, is our society's biggest problem. How are issues like these supposed to be fixed if they are not even allowed to be frankly addressed in the first place?

    March 13, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  21. salty dog

    Toad, those are their voting block, they keep them dumbed down, I believe the term is. The cousin loving, gun totting, marry your sister loyal gop, they don't need no govbment tellin em what to do!

    March 13, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
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