Progressives are all over Representative Paul Ryan for his assertion that a certain group of inner city dwellers lacks a work ethic. Ryan faced criticism when he used what Ian Lopez, author of Dog Whistle Politics, calls a sneaky, racial “code” phrase. According to Lopez, Ryan’s reference to “inner city culture” during a radio interview last Wednesday is covert racism.
Here is what Ryan said on Bill Bennett's Morning in America:
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 to value the culture of work, so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”
Ryan argued that federal anti-poverty programs have contributed to the nation’s high poverty rate and “created what’s known as the poverty trap.”
[W]e want people to reach their potential and so the dignity of work is very valuable and important and we have to re-emphasize work and reform our welfare programs, like we did in 1996.
Soon after Ryan’s interview , Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, echoed Lopez saying Ryan’s remarks were “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.’
Does Lee’s and Lopez’s indignation stem from the fact that Ryan's observations are wrong or that a middle-class white man has dared to examine why decades of entitlement programs have sapped the will to work out of inner city black men? Is Ryan a racist or realist? If Ryan were a liberal, black Democrat, for example, would his assumptions carry more weight with Ms. Lee and Mr. Lopez?
Let’s ask Obama.
In his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope then-Senator Obama refers to the "inner city" and makes similar claims about the behavior and values of what he terms “the black underclass.”
The “old welfare program, the Aid for Families with Dependent Children," he wrote, “too often failed to honor” the core value of working hard. Obama calls for the need to “tackle the nexus of unemployment and crime in the inner city so that men who live there can begin fulfilling their responsibilities.” “Americans believe in work—not just as a means of supporting themselves but as a means of giving their lives, purpose and direction, order and dignity.”
Obama even concedes that there is an “absence of motivation” in black males “to get off the streets” in the inner city.