A week later, and liberals are still lining up to assail Paul Ryan’s “racism.” The episode is worth noting not because Mr. Ryan said anything wrong, but because of what it shows about the political habits of today’s elected and media left.
The Wisconsin Congressman has been looking into the problem of upward economic mobility and how effective federal programs are in combatting poverty. Appearing on Bill Bennett’s radio program, Mr. Ryan observed that antipoverty assistance can often create “incentives not to work and to stay where you are, that’s not what we want in society. . . . There are a lot of people slipping through the cracks in America that are not reaching their potential and we as conservatives should have something to say about that.”
He also mused: “We have got this 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 cultural problem that has to be dealt with.”
The liberal online organ Think Progress led with the headline “Paul Ryan Blames Poverty On Lazy ‘Inner City’ Men,” and it was off to the races. California Democrat Barbara Lee denounced his “thinly veiled racial attack,” adding, “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.'” Others were less charitable about his imagined neo-Confederate sympathies.
Mr. Ryan put out a statement saying he had been “inarticulate” but reiterated his point that “the predictable result” of the poverty trap for society at large has been “multi-generational poverty and little opportunity.”
But don’t take his word for it. “We know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be ‘disconnected’—not in school, not working. We’ve got to reconnect them. We’ve got to give more of these young men access to mentors. We’ve got to continue to encourage responsible fatherhood. We’ve got to provide more pathways to apply to college or find a job. We can keep them from falling through the cracks.”
Those were the words of President Obama, speaking less than a month ago about his “My Brother’s Keeper” project to help “groups who’ve seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations,” especially boys and young men of color. “It’s going to take time. We’re dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society, and are entrenched in our minds.”
No less than Mr. Ryan, Mr. Obama sure sounded like he was talking about “a cultural problem.” He didn’t mention “inner cities,” but his entire White House initiative is geared to helping young minority men, not whites. The President even concluded with an ode to self-reliance that Mr. Ryan might have considered a little too lacking in nuance: “Government cannot play the only—or even the primary—role. . . . It’s ultimately going to be up to these young men and all the young men who are out there to step up and seize responsibility for their own lives.”
So even though Mr. Ryan never mentioned race, liberals attacked his off-the-cuff remarks as racist while the President’s moral lecture was hardly noticed. Republicans are accused of racism if they ignore the least fortunate, and now they’re racist for taking poverty and its causes seriously. Unless you unreservedly favor the welfare status quo, or used to be a community organizer, the left gets you coming and going.
The attacks on Mr. Ryan are one more example of the politics of personal vilification that typifies the left these days. Its policies were supposed to reduce inequality, but instead the income gap is widening. They were supposed to lift people out of poverty, but poverty has increased.
So the last thing they can tolerate is a conservative like Mr. Ryan who is looking for better solutions and using a moral language of opportunity and upward mobility that could appeal to Americans of all incomes and backgrounds. Liberals have to smear conservatives personally because they know they’re losing on the merits.