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. Xu Xui

    Political correctness is a very dangerous thing.

    March 13, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  2. Big_D

    I always find it funny that these brats born with silver spoons talk about work. The only work they do is managing the money they inherited. They are out of touch with the reality of work for generations by the time they get to DC. Look at all those poor first time politicians in DC if you want an example. I'm not sure there is a single one.

    March 13, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  3. meatball

    At the end of the day it doesn't matter if there's tribes of purple dinosaurs or polka dotted vulcans living in the inner city, how do you fix the problem?

    March 13, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  4. John

    JimmyJam. No they shouldn't starve.......they should just quit committing crime!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I guess I am right in both post 🙂

    March 13, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  5. Toad734

    So what's his excuse for poverty in white Appalachia? There are more poor rural whites in this country than poor urban blacks. Yet another fact these idiots refuse to ignore...But rich white people sure do love pointing the finger.

    March 13, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  6. former rr server

    I used to live and work in Janesville,WI.I met rep Paul Ryan at my work when him and his family came in well before he run for VP.Thier complaints were constant(even going as far to complain that they would have been happier if they'd have had a female server ).I found the ENTIRE FAMILY to be rude and degradingly disrespectful,not to mention arrogant and selfish.Paul Ryan isn't Lou M.(former rep from Janesville) I don't think I need to say that I didnt vote for him for president,eventhow my grandfather growing up was a WWII POW....

    March 13, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  7. roro

    There are plenty of people living in rural areas who are on the dole. And many of them are white. So even though his use of inner city is really meant to mean black recipients (we're not all stupid – we know the buzz words)why does he fail to mention this? Not to mention the fact that so many of the recipients are children and the elderly. A fact he also failed to mention. As a Christian, how can he say these things? You are your brothers' keeper and you should treat others the way you would like to be treated.

    March 13, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  8. Loathstheright

    A Republican making racist statements, why am I not surprised.

    March 13, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  9. TSRVT

    Sad, but very telling. You righties don't even try to hide it any more. You are what is wrong with this country today.

    March 13, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  10. barryinlasvegas

    The truth hurts. He is absolutely correct. We now have 4 and 5 generations of people living in the inner city being brought up with the belief that the government owes them free food, welfare, rent and utility assistance and more money for more illegitimate kids born without a father around. This is their way of life and have no concept of getting a job because all of these goodies will go away.

    March 13, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  11. treblemaker

    The Democrats are becoming the champions of the "victim" mentality. The government check creates a nasty habit of dependence just as insidious as any drug, no matter where you live. It's just unfortunate that the inner city is becoming more and more a "welfare warehouse", where hopes for a better life are being destroyed on a daily basis by too many factors to count. Reggie53 is spot on! Paul Ryan being called on the carpet for his comments just goes to prove that political correctness is an enemy of the truth. As long as the debates are concerned more about how words are said than what actions are taken, nothing will ever be solved.

    March 13, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  12. DB

    The obvious "dog whistle racism" aside (no point in discussing that further since EVERYBODY knows that's what it was), his public policy suggestion is wrong, too. There is nothing wrong with Federal anti-poverty programs. Those programs haven't failed. The problem is growing income inequality and a Federal minimum wage that is a horrible joke.

    Raise the minimum wage. Do it NOW, and $10/hr isn't even enough. Index it to inflation so it automatically goes up every year to keep up with the cost of living, avoiding the need to have this ridiculous political argument every several years. If you do this, you will reduce the number of people relying on public assistance OVERNIGHT and it will continue to drop going forward. Then reform the tax code to undo to totally ineffective "Reaganomics." The Congressional Budget Office reported that not only are all those tax cuts for the rich ineffective at stimulating the economy, they've actually caused the growing income disparity in this country and are the reason why wages and salaries for the poor and middle class have barely moved in 30 years. The economy functioned better before Reagan's "trickle down" hoax. He and his party have been able to fool Americans into thinking otherwise because the oil shocks in the 70s caused temporary price spikes and "stagflation." But the economic malaise in the 70s was never a result of bad government policy. Reagan fixed nothing. All he did was perpetrate a massive wealth transfer from the middle class to the rich.

    March 13, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  13. Rudy NYC

    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
    1. They don't fit the narrative that he wants to put forth.
    2. Most of them are just good people who are down on their luck.
    3. The real objective is to find altruistic excuses to cut taxes for the wealthy.
    4. The real purpose is to replace our democracy with a plutocracy that can be found in Ayn Rand's "Atlass Shrugged".

    March 13, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  14. Porter

    We will definitely be discussing reprehensible racial advocacy at the NAACP meeting tonight.

    March 13, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  15. Joseph

    LOL assaulting the message boards isnt going to fool anyone right wingers. You are the minority and yes, we are smart enough to see through Ryans backhanded attack. Its crazy seeing the similarities between the ruling party in russia and our right wing. Its like they think nobody notices the BS and when called on it they either double down or inject the old "this administration" line. You guys are going to lose hard this year and 16. I just hope you go away for good this time.

    March 13, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  16. dean morse

    Pandering to the conservative elite eliminates any credibility that Ryan may have had. The GOP will say anything to anyone that they believe will support them financially to act as a means to the ends. Foot in mouth seems to be spreading amongst the prospective candidates.

    March 13, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  17. Patrick A.

    Ummm....I think when he mentions "inner city" values, he's referring to all minorities, not just blacks, Rep Lee. I think it's awfully ignorant of you and others to think that Blacks are the only racial minority group that get crapped on. There are multiple racial minority groups and they all experience the same treatment. Perhaps if these minority groups banded together, their collective outcry for justice may be heard. The real problem is the racism that exists amongst the minority groups themselves. If the Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Africans, and any other ethnic/immigrant minority group all worked together, they may make some advancements. As long as these minority groups are against each other, no one will ever take any of them seriously. I emigrated to the US in 1977 at 6 years old w/ my parents. I was raised in the inner city, but was always raised to have hopes and goals. I'm an Architect today, married to an Irish woman. My parents taught me that there's a whole world out there, and if you don't take it, it'll swallow you up. It's true, in the inner city, the general mentality is that it's them against the world. I lived it. However, anyone who is raised by decent hardworking people is always looking to elevate themselves from their current situation. The problem is that a large portion, not all, of these inner city kids are raised to have disdain for people who are successful and not a minority. The intelligent ones use that as fuel to strive for success.

    March 13, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  18. Jerry


    Going strictly by the numbers, there are more white people on welfare than black people.

    Could that be due to the fact that there are more white people than black. They are however breeding as fast as possible to change that.

    March 13, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  19. MB

    as so many put here already-let's call a spade a spade-Ryan hates the poor-does NOT want to help them AT ALL and like most Ayn Rand Repubs prefers that they starve in silence-the Repubs have NO HEART AND NO SOUL ESPECIALLY PAUL RYAN

    March 13, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  20. Jme

    The left hates the truth. It scares them.

    March 13, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  21. Big_D

    If we're pointing fingers the places with all the highest rates of welfare and public assistance are in the bible belt. They are rural communities with no work. Ryan is clueless like you expect from a rich jerk who has never had a real job.

    March 13, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  22. QS

    What. A. Tool!

    March 13, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  23. Tracy

    @ TSRVT

    You lefties sure are content with kicking the can down the road and supporting the status quo. You guys MUST keep those poor people poor so they will continue to support your BS policies.

    March 13, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  24. Charles

    Ryan's remarks sound like Hitler's in 1941. The final solution.

    March 13, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  25. dave

    Republicans know that most of the poor people that vote for them are just bigots, and they do every thing they can to take advantage of that fact. They've been doing it for years, going way back. There's really no logical reason for a poor person to vote for republcians, other tnan racism, their hatred trumps all else, even their own economic futures. Same with posters, we have no idea who they are, they could be KKK guys, or prisoners, or paid posters, etc. It's time that people just come out and say it, call it like it is. I know alot of poor republican voters who are nothing more than bigots, nothing can sway them. It's just the way they are, born that way, will die that way.

    March 13, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
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