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. Silence DoGood

    If you doubt the veracity of his claims– look no further than the continent they came from for your proof.

    Apartheid, rape gangs, cannibalism, female genitalia mutilation, genocide, slavery, and clan warfare all all institutionalized practices there.

    If we allowed them completely free reign, our inner cities would look something like that.
    I just cannot seem to find any evidence of that Radical Right Racism I have heard so much about. Hmmmm – where can it be?
    This person should definitively go on an inner city speaking tour and tell everyone they meet just what they think of "them".

    March 13, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  2. Anonymous

    God forbid, someone speaks the truth about America. Let's all pretend that everything is as it should be, that everyone who is able, is pulling their weight and choosing to NOT subsist on the back of the rest of us.

    As long as libs refuse to challenge their main constituents, America will continue to sink!

    March 13, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  3. FlawidaJack

    I spent years in the inner city, observing and trying to help. It didn't work. Let Pelosi & Lee stroll down any inner city street around 11 pm, and with no bodyguards, no cell phones and no camera crew. Please post how that works out.

    March 13, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  4. The Real Tom Paine


    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.
    What exists is an opportunity problem in our cities, which the GOP has never tried to address in any substantive way. Instead of making clumsy remarks and then blame others for " pulling the race card", maybe its about time the GOP stopped writing off cities as a Democratic problem. The GOP has not had a credible voice on race and economic opportunity since Jack Kemp, and that was a generation ago.

    March 13, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  5. yolanda

    @Real, I'm not defending Ryan, nor did I attack the president, as @bcrunner implied. I applaud any and all attempts to rectify the situation. I lament that Obama has not used his bully pulpit to put more attention on the subject. Why do you feel the need to politicize everything? Do either Ryan or Obama have to be wrong (or right) to make you happy? And yes, @Tampa's posts are usually nothing more than negative spewing at Republicans without any attempt to offer anything constructive. And no, i am not a Republican, nor a Democrat for that matter. I am one of those creatures who tries to use my own brain to decide what (and who) is better for the country. I very much wanted Obama to succeed. He has been hamstrung by the Policy of No of the Republicans, but he has been much less than he promised to be when on the campaign trail. It grows extremely tiring reading the same thread of finger pointing, name calling garbage here. There could be decent discourse, but per usual, things are brought down to the lowest common denominator.

    March 13, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  6. John

    Are all the ultra-conservatives really and truly that confused about the utter lack of difference between what they call fact and the reality of mere opinion? I'm sure that obviously many are but I'm just as sure many aren't but still purposely set the tone for the rest of the sheeples who are incapable of cognizant thought and only have opinions dictated to them their lead dogs who are only using them for their personal benefit. It's amazing how people blindly worship that hackish clown from southeast Missouri is feeding off the masses for no reason except personal profit.

    March 13, 2014 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  7. rs


    "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.
    That's a cop out. For Ryan and the like, they are too busy tearing down our government- they despise it and our President. Naturally they don't believe the "government" can do anything.

    March 13, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  8. Chuck

    Just blew his chance at ever seeing the White House. Give a republican some job to do that they really don't have an understanding of, and this is what you get. Just look at the IQ of red states vs blue and you really see who is intellectually deficient.

    March 13, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  9. weimardog

    The left sees everything Repulicans say as thinly veiled racism. That is how thw keep their base stirred up and conservatives on their heals.

    March 13, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  10. Wake up People!

    Thank you Just Me! You nailed it exactly!!

    March 13, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  11. The Real Tom Paine

    -Enough is Enough

    So, what I take from progressive comments here is that the truth hurts. Inner cities have had trillions of dollars poured into them to improve education and reduce poverty....and nearly all of it has been wasted. If you want to improves the lives of those in the inner cities and elsewhere) you can do it by demanding that people self-sufficient. Stop the 72% out of wedlock birth rate. Stop holding out athletes and other celebrities who can't string three words together using proper English in order to form a sentence. Parents need to step up and be parents – not friemds – of their children. It will take time and effort, however, this can be turned around. Don't shoot the messenger simply because you don't like the message.
    The Right has done nothing to change that paradigm in our cities, preferring to write them off because they did not see a return on investment for them politically. Don't blame us for a problem you ignored.

    March 13, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  12. kevikens

    You will know the truth and it will make you free. Even when the truth is unpleasant and we are offended by having it pointed out, it still remains the truth.

    March 13, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  13. Jim

    What do you mean, "You people"? The truth hurts. Inner cities have a huge societal problem of crime and drug, crime and gang culture. That isn't just centered on black people. It pertains to all inner city youth.

    March 13, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  14. Realist

    C'mon, leave the poor guy alone. He's obviously suffering from Affluenza!

    March 13, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  15. Juxtapoz

    Notice how Ryan TOTALLY avoids the "culture problem" that's kept so many fair-skinned, blue collar people in many parts of Mississippi, West VA, Pennsylvania, Texas, and other places way down on the pay scale. You NEVER see Republicans accusing THOSE people of being low-wage earners and nanny-state "takers". No, whenever the GOP talks about poverty, they always rely on terms like "urban" and "inner city", to avoid exposing the fact that a BIG chunk of their own base lives pretty much the same if not worse. Whenever they talk about poverty in other places, somehow it's the fault of everyone BUT the people who live there.

    March 13, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  16. Vickie lee

    Paul Ryan is talking to his racist fans.If he is so dedicated to his program then he needs to go to the inner city and talk to the real people thats homeless, that's lose their jobs, and cut them off their unemployment checks. And oh by the way when you have worked your butt off for years on a job that don't give raises that's a bitch by it self. But you know that you pay into unemployment anyway , It's taken out of your check every pay Mr.. Ryan is so rich now that he has forgotten what it's like to be poor.Hell, a lot of them has forgotten what it was like.I think a lot of the gop are cowards and don't really wont to deal with it period.

    March 13, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  17. Jim Brody

    Lord knows, I am no fan of Paul Ryan or Charles Murray, but to be fair. Let's remember what Ryan said, "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,” I live and work in the "innercity" and I can't disagree with this. Does this mean all or most people who live in the US or in the inner city in particular are part of this culture? OF COURSE NOT! Does it mean there is a problem that needs to be addressed? YES! We will get absolutely nowhere in adressing this unless the cons can shed their sterotypes and the libs can stop playing conflation games.

    March 13, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  18. bobo

    Ryan is Right! People (no matter how poor you are) need to be responsible for themselves Plus we all know the cities get alot more government aid to help these people.... and what do they do with it?!

    March 13, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  19. Rudy NYC

    I think people confuse laziness for disenfranchisement. Too many young black men look out at the world, and see one that is hostile, non-inclusive, and full of people like eager to put you down and hold you there. There's a tendency to give up without a fight because they know that the deck is stacked against them. They've watched the majority of those who try to succeed not only meet failure, but intentional road blocks, too.

    Paul Ryan is one such road block. HIs message is appallingly clear. Let's give up on these people, stop wasting our money, cut the programs, and let's move on without them. They are a drag on society. Unfortunately, Ryan doesn't seem to realize that kicking them to the ground is what makes them drag.

    March 13, 2014 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  20. CapeCod

    Obama did NOT reduce the deficit,

    He tripled it and through taxes and the sequester (which he didn't want) the deficit went down.

    He promised to cut Bush's deficit "in half"

    He never did that.

    March 13, 2014 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  21. Tea Leaves of True Green Enviroment

    Who cares. Just like Congressman Joaquin Castro, a big lib, did even worse by slandering the owner's of Bucee's for donating money to the Tea Party, Castro accused the candidate who received the donation of being a "fear mongering immigrant basher." In reality, the candidate Dan Patrick supports LEGAL immigration. But that is a concept rabid, hateful liberals can't seem to grasp, which is why they resort to slander and lies as did Castro. Paul Ryan on the other hand, just made a statement about the inner city that seems to be truthful.

    March 13, 2014 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  22. Alohajonny

    WOW The truth hurts, violent, uneducated gangs playing Knock Out. Speaking a form of english that only they understand. Get over it progressives, it is a FACT !!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 13, 2014 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  23. dontbefooled

    Sorry to bust your bubble of ignorance, but intelligence=/=education. Learn the difference before you post on public forums. There are a lot of people with below average intelligence that become very educated as is there is a lot of highly intelligent people who never get an "education".

    Educate yourselves on the average intelligence by race (by the best testing means we have to date). Pointing out statistical facts has become raciest. LOLOLOL

    March 13, 2014 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  24. John Illinois

    Get serious and quit denying reality liberals! There has been Trillions of dollars poured into the the so-called "inner cities" and it has basically all been a waste of our money! Many of them refuse to work, crime rates are higher than every other area and they think someone owes them something; no one owes them anything! I would say that IS a culture problem.

    March 13, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  25. Alan

    Look, Ryan is right, Ryan is wrong, Ryan is full of half-truths (like every polititian). There are Black people who are lacking in basic intelligence but there are also While folks that are incredibily STUPID (Ryan for example) in even the most fundamental issues. Yea, lots of poor people taking advantage of governemnt programs to subsist. Can't think of many that have gotten wealthy off of welfare. But, there are lots of rich folks (black and white) that get nice government handouts only to make themselves richer. Asking poor people to step up their game and work with the systems in place to better themselves and their future generations should be required so they they can end the cycle. But rich folks should also put their hands back in the pants and stop asking society to give them opportunities and wealth they really do not need. I would bet, the balance sheet would more money saved than spent.

    March 13, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
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