Government & Politics

Explaining the Causes of Poverty Is Racist

Paul Ryan talked about the underlying culture and gets the standard rebuke.

Mar. 27, 2014

Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan has long been the go-to guy for GOP budget strategy. As such, he earns opposition from all sides – including many conservatives for not going far enough. Recently, Ryan waded into a discussion on the endemic nature of poverty and how it relates to government spending, leaving politically correct leftists fit to be tied.

“[W]e have got this tailspin of culture and her inner cities in particular of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value in the culture of work,” Ryan said in a radio interview. “And so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.” He was advocating a broader approach to fighting poverty than just throwing government money at it. “If you’re driving from the suburb to the sports arena downtown by these blighted neighborhoods,” he added, “you can’t just say: ‘I’m paying my taxes, government’s going to fix that.’ You need to get involved.”

Predictably, Ryan’s comments set off leftist accusations of – wait for it – racism. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) angrily lectured, “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.’” The fact is, this is about culture and not color, but the “colorblind” Left makes everything about color.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote a rejoinder absurdly titled Paul Ryan’s culture attack is an excuse to do nothing about poverty. He explained, “My problem is that when you identify something so amorphous as culture as the fundamental issue, you excuse yourself for not proposing concrete solutions.”

Well, our problem is the federal government has been waging its “War on Poverty” for more than half a century with little to show for it beyond exploding debt. Indeed, Ryan has done extensive work reviewing the results of government intervention, and found that the benefits are underwhelming. But if anyone dares to suggest such a thing, or that cultural problems are interwoven with poverty, retribution is swift. Real solutions, on the other hand, are left on the altar of political correctness.

Ryan conceded that his comments were “inarticulate,” but his point stands. And as columnist George Will more eloquently writes, “To say that poverty can be self-perpetuating is not to say, and Ryan did not say, that poverty is caused by irremediable attributes that are finally the fault of the poor. It is, however, to define the challenge, which is to acculturate those unacquainted with the culture of work to the disciplines and satisfactions of this culture.”

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