Politics & Policy

Paul Ryan’s White Hood

The latest media firestorm over the congressman's comments is ridiculous.

What incorrigible racist said the following?

“Fewer young black and Latino men participate in the labor force compared to young white men. And all of this translates into higher unemployment rates and poverty rates as adults.”

“In troubled neighborhoods all across this country — many of them heavily African-American — too few of our citizens have role models to guide them.”

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“We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households. . . . We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of school; and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.”

“We know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be ‘disconnected’ — not in school, not working.”

As you might guess, Paul Ryan said none of these things. Barack Obama did — in heartfelt speeches at a Chicago church in 2008, at Morehouse College in 2013, and at the White House a few weeks ago.

In his instantly notorious interview with radio talk-show host Bill Bennett, Ryan discussed fatherlessness and the importance of role models. “We have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular,” he said, “of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

For this offense, Ryan was awarded an honorary white hood by the liberal commentariat. When Barack Obama says such things, which are undeniably correct, he is a brave truth-teller; when Paul Ryan says them, he is making an odious play for racist votes, via a “dog whistle.”

In literally the next sentence, Ryan urged the civic-minded to help out in what President Obama calls “troubled neighborhoods.” That almost none of his attackers noted this part of his answer tells you everything you need to know about their credibility.

More evidence of Ryan’s alleged malign intent was a mention of Charles Murray. Murray’s book The Bell Curve will forever be controversial for its treatment of race and IQ, but Murray’s latest work, Coming Apart, is about the struggles of the white working class. Notably, Ryan also mentioned Harvard social scientist Robert Putnam, whose recent work also has focused on class divisions and social isolation.

These are the scholarly name-checks of someone who is thinking about the unraveling of civil society, not how to become the next George Wallace.

Ryan’s critics hate the word “culture,” as if it were a concept that right-wingers came up with to justify nefarious doings rather than one that is central to understanding how the world works.

In the New York Times several years ago, Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson wrote a column against the “deep-seated dogma” that rejects “any explanation that invokes a group’s cultural attributes — its distinctive attitudes, values, and predispositions.”

He argued that the economic boom of the 1990s created millions of jobs yet “jobless black youths simply did not turn up to take them. Instead, the opportunity was seized in large part by immigrants — including many blacks — mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean.” Patterson blamed it on “the cool-pose culture” of many young black men.

Fortunately, Orlando Patterson is not the Republican chairman of a House committee, or he could never show himself in polite society again.

As for Paul Ryan, he is such a callous dog-whistler that he has been touring urban neighborhoods as he formulates a new conservative agenda on poverty. Ryan wants to reform welfare programs to incentivize work and to encourage institutions of civil society to fight social breakdown. His antagonists want to pour more money into the same welfare programs that have failed to address the root causes of poverty for decades.

After his interview caused a firestorm, Ryan said he had been “inarticulate,” in a good-faith gesture to his critics. He would have been entirely justified in telling them simply to go to hell.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2014 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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