March 13th, 2014
10:00 AM ET
7 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. Paul

    I am left-leaning democrat.. And I never thought I would agree with Ryan, but to an extent what he said is true – there is a destructive culture within inner city ghettos, during the day you constantly see women heading to work to support their children, and numerous men simply standing around doing nothing.. I think it more has to do with how you are raised and the culture and values you are raised in, but not your race per se... I think Ryan's observation is correct, even though it's not politically correct... The problem is my mind is that Ryan's "solutions" would make the poverty worse..

    March 13, 2014 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  2. Sniffit

    How very outreachy! Please proceed.

    March 13, 2014 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  3. tim

    I think he nailed it.

    March 13, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  4. Dude

    So how are you supposed to describe 'inner city' people? They aren't always black, and labeling them as such generally is as racist as anything they are accusing him of saying. I don't always agree with Ryan, but he's close to if not on the mark with some of his statements. Sorry, but it's true.

    March 13, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  5. rs

    This is just Mr. Ryan (and more generally the Right as a whole) pushing the whole "foreignness" thing. They unleashed the "birthers" against the President, tolerated their own calling him a "mongrel subhuman". This is simply code- code for we don't like those people- in this case city dwellers. And, see for the Right it is perfectly find to declare these "others" as somehow alien to America and "American culture" and talk about the effects ("end of our way of life") in these sort of bizarre, quasi-Biblical terms, all the while, they tear at the fabric of our government and social structure.

    The GOP- the wedge in America.

    March 13, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  6. NorCalMojo

    truth hurts

    March 13, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  7. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    @Lynda/Minnesota: "Take away his well paying job and put him in an inner city environment; take away all contacts, all safety nets, all hope, and prove to us he's "got what it takes" beyond disgusting rhetoric."

    And that's the endgame for the gop/tea bag/libertarian crowd: Dog-eat-dog capitalism, a society where if you're lucky enough to be born into a family of means, great; otherwise, you're screwed. Sure, a few will make it out, but even if they do, they'll never be fully welcomed by the elite 1%-ers because in their eyes, you will always be one of "them."

    Go live in any third-world country if you want proof.

    March 13, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  8. The Real Tom Paine


    Whether Ryan addressed the problem in the "politically correct" way or not is debatable. But rather than acknowledge that the US has a poverty/culture problem (both rural and urban), posters like @Tampa simply continue to spew bile. Thanks for the consistency Timmy, you didn't disappoint.
    We have a president whose biracial heritage gives him great credibility in addressing inner city poverty and inequality. It is disheartening that he, until recently, has not made this issue a priority. Hopefully it will play a bigger role in the remainder of his second term.
    Tim never said we did not have a problem, its the selective nature of Ryan's comments coupled with the fact he referenced an author who has made race an issue in the poverty debate. Ryan injected race into the issue because he's more concerned about appealing to the base rather than solve the problem. He's been in Congress his entire adult life as an aide and a Rep, and he only discovers this issue in the last 18 months? Your comments are a disappointment, since you can't see how Ryan fumbled a good opportunity because he chose the path of least resistance, and seek to defend him merely because he has an R after his name.

    March 13, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  9. bcrunner

    @Yolanda: But, when the president announced the "my brother's keeper" initiative a few days ago, you all screamed on this very page how he only included the blacks and how racist he was. All the right wingers came out swinging that day and I bet if we could go back, you were probably one of them. Let's face it! No matter what this president does, you will find something wrong with it.

    March 13, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  10. rs

    Fair is Fair

    There's also a slew of other reasons for poverty, Ryan... mental illness, poor education, household issues, and the list goes on ad nauseum. And as others have stated, it shows no geographic boundaries. Get a clue.
    Excellent points. However, Ryan and his ilk aren't known for dealing with factual complexities- it is far easier to say these folks are rotten and lazy and leave it at that.

    March 13, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  11. Jason

    Culture and inner city mean "black"?? I think when he said that he meant culture as in glorifying violence and drug dealing. The inner cities are most certainly not just black, they have people of all races. Being from CA I think Mrs Lee is way off base.

    March 13, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  12. No Tea Please

    "Kill the government and find freedom and riches."
    Try Somalia. They have no government because they "killed it". You anarchists always want "no government" but are the first to rant when the part of the government you need isn't readily available. Really – Somalia... you'll love it!

    March 13, 2014 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  13. Anonymous

    Many highly respected, highly intelligent Affrican Americans–Bill Cosby, Juan Williams, Dr. Ben Carson to name a few–have said the same thing. And while each of these men has his own political views, they unite on this issue. But white liberals pay attention only to the dumb black spokemen who are worthy of no respect at all. Let's see–who might they be???

    March 13, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  14. CNN is fiction

    CNN's protocol at its best.. Make something out of nothing, now that Ryan has become a front running Republican. No new news since CNN has already run the bridge-gate story into the grave. Do your research Hillary has said the same thing time and time again as Ryan is stating, no attack there.. GOOGLE works..Try it out .

    March 13, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  15. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Sniffit: "Any questions?"

    No, Sniffit. You're covering all the bases just fine.

    Carry on.

    March 13, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  16. sumguy2006

    Why would there be a backlash about a politician actually telling the truth and accurately summing up a problem this country needs to deal with? In my state of CT we spend nearly the highest amounts per pupil on our urban schools, and we get the absolute worst education/graduation rates out of those schools. It's time to stop throwing money away and try to get to the bottom of whats really going on in these communities. I would start with the percentage of single parent homes and go from there.

    March 13, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  17. Sniffit

    " He's been in Congress his entire adult life as an aide and a Rep, and he only discovers this issue in the last 18 months?"

    Indeed. His pivot is quite blatantly an attempt to gather some "street cred" on the poverty/wealth disparity issue in hopes he can blunt its use against him in 2016. Too bad for Plutocrat Pauly that his pivot landed him in an even worse quagmire because, well, Freud wasn't kidding: what this jerk really thinks came out of his mouth and now he's trying to moonwalk it. Moreover, how he has to talk about the issue to his base in order to rile them...code-speak and all...backfired horribly.

    March 13, 2014 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  18. Derf

    Starts at home!! If the "cultures" were real moms and dads and raise the kids, they could and would make something of their kids. Instead the deadbeats, walk away, complain that they were victims and make them a problem for others..... They need to be responsible.

    March 13, 2014 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  19. heyjoe1

    What Ryan said is 100% true. Why would anyone say otherwise? If the Democrats want to use this true statement to bash Ryan or his party, then let them. They are idiots and we're all finally realizing it.

    March 13, 2014 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  20. Seth

    What the hell would Wonder Bread White Boy Paul Ryan know about culture in the inner city?

    March 13, 2014 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  21. spudnik56

    Well, Ryan has shown his true colors. He is a typical right wing whack job and bigot...The GOP will never, never learn.

    March 13, 2014 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  22. rs

    Perhaps Mr. Ryan also gives cover to the GOP for wanting to lend a $ billion to the Ukraine (a drop in the bucket of their debt to Russia), but not to the American city of Detroit. You cannot make up this stuff.....

    March 13, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  23. Gary

    I thinks we could do things faster by cutting off the male organ of the US and watch it float out to sea= Florida ... that could be a fix for A LOT of issues .. like why does FL see fit to have a child killer sign autographs?

    March 13, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  24. Sherron

    Every time anyone tells the truth their is a BIG hullabaloo! He is exactly right! And usually I don't even like him..

    March 13, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  25. Angela Starry

    But the real question is are we too lazy to pack the brown paper lunch bags.. Tell him to stick the paper bag over his head and stay the hell outta all urban usa cities cause this guy doesnt have a clue.

    March 13, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
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