Paul Ryan: Is it racist to blame poverty on culture?

Paul Ryan sparked outrage when he attributed the cause of poverty in the nations's inner cities to a culture of "men not working.”

Rep. Paul Ryan may not be “personally a racist,” said Paul Krugman in The New York Times, but in today’s Republican Party, you don’t get far without knowing how to talk like one. The GOP’s boyish budget wonk and possible presidential contender sparked outrage last week when, in conversation with right-wing radio host Bill Bennett, he blamed U.S. poverty on a “culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working.” If there were any doubt that Ryan’s comments were a “racial dog whistle,” note that he spoke as if poverty exists only in the “inner cities.” In the Republican mind-set, when liberals steal your hard-earned money to give it away in handouts to “Those People,” the “inner city” is where those (black) people live. Ryan later walked back his remarks, said Paul Waldman in, claiming he’d been “inarticulate.” Perhaps in a more articulate moment he might explain why 41 percent of the 50 million Americans living in poverty are white, and why states with the highest poverty rates are Southern states dominated by conservative social values and economic policies.

“One of the worst traits” of many liberals is their promiscuous use of the term “racist!” said Andrew Sullivan in Ryan a racist is a cowardly way “to avoid engaging [his] arguments rather than tackling them.” In any serious discussion of poverty, how do you pretend culture doesn’t play a role? Even some liberals used to concede that, said Jonathan Tobin in In the 1990s, Bill Clinton embraced welfare reform, admitting that some social programs aimed at lifting people out of poverty were having the opposite effect: making the poor so dependent on government handouts that they lost the incentive to work. But in the “newly energized left wing of the Democratic Party,” it’s still the 1960s, and “throwing more money” at poverty is the only solution.

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