Those Lazy Inner-City White Folks

Unlike Rick Perry, Paul Ryan is a master of subtlety in his double-talk on the future of the New Deal/Great Society legacy under Republican governance. Conservative activists may understand that his budget proposals for turning Medicare into a defined-contribution premium support program, or for block-granting Medicaid, represent way stations to a return to the glorious days before 1933. But the out-front rhetoric is always about “saving” Medicare and “reforming” Medicaid. Similarly, Ryan has invested heavily in concern-trolling poor people by suggesting that their “moral fiber” and prospects for upward mobility are being threatened by the tyranny of federally subsidized food, health care, and income support. That all these crocodile tears happen to coincide with the policy predilections of conservatives who view poor people as looters and constitution-destroyers (following the explicit views of Ryan’s muse Ayn Rand) is just a coincidence, it seems.

But even Ryan screws up now and then, and he’s furiously back-peddling from comments made in the friendly confines of Bill Bennett’s radio show about the non-existent work ethic of “inner-city” men. Gee, wonder who he could be talking about? Lauren Victoria Burke asked him about that, and he was just stunned anyone could think it was a racial dog-whistle:

When I asked Ryan if he’d like to “revise and extend his remarks on black men” as he left he House floor after last votes on Wednesday he said, “it was taken out of context — it was, that was — out of left field — out of context.”

“This has nothing to do whatsoever with race,” Ryan he added as we spoke in an elevator. He also indicated that it was Bennett that raised the initial issue over the course of a lengthy discussion.

“It was a long talk and he asked about the culture and I just went off of that,” Ryan said. “This has nothing to do whatsoever with race. It never even occurred to me. This has nothing to do with race whatsoever,” he repeated.

This sort of assertion, backed up when necessary by the claim that the questioner is “playing the race card,” is common enough on the Right that Ryan will probably get away with it unscathed. And that’s a shame: it would be instructive and entertaining to force him to produce some examples of inner-city white folks suffering from the terrible tyranny of federal assistance.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.