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. MaryM

    Ah yes the Ryan and the republican mantra of non white Americans are inferior . Even your republican Dr Carson. Ryan, Your statement is one of the main reasons You and Mitt lost. And your republicans will continue to Lose national elections

    March 13, 2014 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  2. demopublican republicrat

    Sad that Truth can't be spoken if it's socially uncomfortable for some people to hear. I fear what's happening to our society and where we are headed as we continue to sweep Truth under the rug in favor of people's feelings?

    March 13, 2014 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  3. Michael

    While I know cnn wants to stoke the fire of racism rather than report entire stories, what Ryan pointed out is true. Those looking top start fight want to see his comments racist rather than acknowledge reality. With regard to the "put up or shut up" remark from Mr. Stein, what is it you would like done? More entitlements, hand outs, give aways, government sponsered "programs"? They don't seem to be working nor are they appreciated, just expected and then criticized. Also, Mr. Stein, jump in!

    March 13, 2014 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  4. rs


    Conservatives don't use "code", so people should stop accusing them of their use. Just because Progressives use "code" doesn't mean everybody does.

    My opinion, the sick culture in the inner cities actually CAUSES low intelegence. I think if you took a baby born in the inner city and had him raised by suburbanites, the baby would grow up with a much higher IQ.
    I hope your handle is a joke.

    March 13, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  5. Kevin

    Is there NOT a culture problem in inner cities? Or is this another very thin opportunity for Democrats to label Republicans as racist? The left is running out of ideas, so they are pulling the race card all the time. Makes me sick.

    March 13, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  6. mojave45

    Why is it that when we speak the truth about inner city ills, that the race card is immediately thrown? A well known problem, the failure of fathers to raise their children, gets someone vilified for discussing it? And instead of casting stones, like the the "liberals" are doing hear about Ryans perceived inaction to address the problem, should be turned about. The Democrats and the liberals run all of these huge cities. When are they going to address these problems in a consistant, daily effort to change things?

    March 13, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  7. Enough is Enough

    @Oliver Dyer – the reverse is true as well. Those who do not know how or are unwilling to do what it takes to be successful tell us that they know why they are in the situation they are, and what WE need to do to get them out of it.

    March 13, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  8. Larry38363

    I guess Government's only job is to keep the Republicans rich and happy and everyone else poor and in poverty! What a sad representation of the GOP (Greedy Old Politicians).

    March 13, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  9. jdean

    Why would anyone take Ryan seriously. He has no interest in poor urban neighborhoods. He is merely staking out the votes from the fossils in the USA. This of course is a non starter politically demographic is shrinking. His reference to Murray has even broader implications for Ryan himself. The theis of Murray's seems entirely refuted by Ryan's comments.

    March 13, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  10. rs


    Why is it okay when some black leaders have said basically the same thing? I have worked in both the public and private sectors and have found that yes, there are many issues related to the poverty issue (whether it be urban, suburban, or rural.)
    Good question. The difference is that Mr. Ryan and his ilk are using this rich observation as a reason to abandon the core of American cities and deny them aid. There are problems, that much is clear, the difference lies in how one group wishes to deal with them.

    March 13, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  11. julnor

    "Mr. Ryan should step up and produce some legitimate proposals on how to tackle poverty and racial discrimination in America" This statement from Rep. Lee shows a fundamental flaw in the thinking of liberals: not every problem can be solved by the govt. Our 50 year War on Poverty is proof alone that govt cannot fix poverty. Mr. Ryan is completely correct on his statement that a cultural problem exists. When almost 80% of black children are born out of wedlock, the chance that the next generation will succeed is low. Govt cannot fix that, only the people can change their culture. If only 10% of black children were born out of wedlock the problems in the inner city would take care of themselves.

    March 13, 2014 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  12. rs


    Sometimes the hammer head hits the nail and it just drives liberals to out of their minds crazy to admit there is more than a problem with cities like Detroit. In my opinion the inner city doesn't need to be fixed. Just let it continue to disintegrate into a pile of manure.
    How American and Christian of you. Do you really like anarchy?

    March 13, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  13. Rosslaw

    Ryan has no private sector experience other than driving a hot dog shaped truck. He has been a creature of Washington, D.C. since his earliest adulthood. He drafted a "plan" to reduce the deficit by 2040 (!) while Obmaa has already cut it in half now. Why is this loser treated by anyone as a go-to guy on economic issues?

    March 13, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  14. TheSadTruth

    Jut a trust fund baby who has written off the "lower classes" (including you and me).

    March 13, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  15. DJ Reality

    If Paul Ryan is the best republicants have to offer in 2016 they might as well wait for 2020.

    March 13, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  16. Orlando

    I'm not a Pelosi fan, but Ryan's remarks are certainly way off base. There must be something in the water in DC or in Wisconsin.

    March 13, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  17. Gurgyl

    Blah, blah, black sheep, have you any wool, yes, sir, yes, sir three bags full.....same old repo rants, I pity.

    March 13, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  18. Gary

    What he said is the damn truth and everyone knows it.... why are people so sensitive about words?

    March 13, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  19. Speedster

    A a left-leaner, I agree with Ryan on this one. If your ethnic group is struggling (be it black, latino, Khymer, Baltic, etc.), nobody is going to create a program that is going to lift you out of poverty and educate your children. You need to do it yourselves.

    I think we focus to much on "culture" and too little on behavior.

    March 13, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  20. rs

    Ian Hayden Parker

    i am a big liberal who also does inner city work, and ryans statement here is the only thing i have ever heard him say that i can agree with, and most of my liberal friends would agree that getting inner city men to work and care for their children is a huge problem that is generational. so why the attack on ryan?
    No, I think you miss the point. I think most people would acknowledge there are problems in inner city America, lost of them. By demonizing the residents, Mr. Ryan is making the excuse that it's just fine to deny them any aid and walk away rather than do something far harder- try to make things better for our fellow Americans.

    March 13, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  21. Luigi

    As Kurt Vonnegut Jr always ended his books, "And so it goes".

    March 13, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  22. eugenedanker

    "the value and the culture of work" Interesting words coming from a member of our current Congress.

    March 13, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  23. Rudy NYC

    If Democrats don't tattoo Ryan's words, and the meager reaction from his colleagues, in permanent ink, then they're just as stupid as Ryan's remarks. He's just handed Democrats the keys to city, D.C. Are Democrats savy enought to grab them?

    We all know what Republicans would do should an opportunity like this present itself. Ryan has played the race card, so don't let him discard it. I don't hate Republicans. I simply despise people who are so unabashedly hate filled.

    March 13, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  24. Windu

    Other than validating Murray's absurd theories, Ryan is saying exactly what numerous black and liberal scholars have said and are saying about the intractable problems of inner city poor black people. Sorry, but there is a broken culture in these communities and it is a tragedy, and we'll never fix it if only certain people are allowed to speak on it. As a black liberal, I'm glad to hear a Republican leader speaking up and seeming to actually give a darn instead of just demonizing hip hop and "thugs" and "welfare queens." People need to get a clue.

    March 13, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  25. livingston

    If helping people stay out of poverty isn't the job of the government, then I'm sure he wouldn't mind paying back all the survivor's benefits that he received growing up. You know, the help he got from the government. Until then, he needs to sit down and shut up.

    March 13, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
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