Paul Ryan Racist
by Jonathan Rosenblum
April 4, 2014
Paul Ryan Racist?
As the wheels continue to fall off of Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and the economy to flounder, Democrats need anything they can get their hands onto to distract voters – the Koch brothers, the Republicans war on women, GOP racism. Paul Ryan's comment on cultural decline in a radio interview with former Secretary of Education William Bennett provided Democrats with cannon fodder.
Ryan's basic point was that there is a growing underclass of men in America who have never worked, whose fathers may never have worked, and who are not looking for jobs. His mistake – if it can be called a mistake – was to attach this "tailspin of culture" to "our inner cities in particular."
Both Ryan's observation about the development of a culture of dependency (though he did not use the term) and its most intense locus in the inner cities are, at one level, incontrovertible. Truth, however, proved to be little defense for Ryan. He was instantly accused of emitting racial "dog-whistles" about shiftless blacks and "blaming the victims." A Google search of Paul Ryan and racism yielded 21 million hits.
Ryan was right to stress the importance of cultural trends. Does anyone deny that human capital is a crucial indicator of national health. The American Interest editor Adam Garfinkle observed two years ago, "I don't know of any great power in history that lost its foothold or decayed because of external reasons; internal dysfunction was to blame." That was certainly Gibbon's reading of the decline of the Roman Empire.
And does anyone deny that stable two-parent families are acrucial to the development of human capital and its transmission to subsequent generations? Research by the Economic Mobility Project shows that children raised by two parents in families in the lowest third of income distribution are twice as likely to exit the bottom third as are children raised by divorced parents And the ratio is even higher compared to children who never lived in a stable two-parent family.
And things are getting worse – lots worse. When the late Daniel Moynihan wrote "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action" in 1965, the percentage of black children born to single mothers was 25% (versus 3% of white mothers). (Moynihan, a liberal Democrat, was also accused of "blaming the victim," prior to being elected four times to the Senate from New York.) Today the overall percentage of children born to single mothers in America is over 40%, and among blacks 72%.
While, in America, cultural deficits are most widespread in inner city ghettos in America, they are not confined to them. The growing underclass is not limited to any particular race. Charles Muray's Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010 limits itself to a contrast in cultural markers – marriage and divorce rates, percentage of children raised by biological parents, illegitimacy, attendance at religious services – between the upper and lower quintiles of the white population. Those gaps are constantly growing.
The inner city culture described by Ryan pretty much traces Theodore Dalrymple's chronicles of the British underclass, which is primarily white. The British riots in the summer of 2011 prompted Dalrymple, a former prison psychiatrist, to note that 600,000 Britons have reached the age of 26 without ever having worked a day in their lives. Seventeen per cent of British youth are neither working, nor in school, nor in training programs. Many have never tasted a morsel of food nor worn a garment paid for by money earned. Yet far from breeding gratitude, welfare has only left its recipients with a feeling of entitlement to more.
Dalrymple's descriptions of the "cities of darkness" surrounding Paris – primarily Muslim immigrants – is depressingly similar: "Alienation is written on the faces of the young men, most of them permanently unemployed. . . . When you approach them to speak, their immobile faces betray not a flicker of recognition of your shared humanity." These young men constitute "a population that derives the meaning of its life from the hatred it bears for the other 'official' society of France.
The common element uniting the American, British and French underclasses is that welfare has ceased to be a societal safety net and become a way of life. Nicolas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute found that government transfer payments in America grew a hundredfold between 1960 and 2010, and payments to individuals 727%.
Over that same period, the percentage of people working has rapidly declined. The percentage of white males receiving disability insurance has quintupled since 1969, the percentage outside the workforce has tripled, and the percentage in part-time work has doubled. These unemployed or underemployed white males make unattractive marriage partners, and so marriage rates have plummeted as well.
For an ever growing percentage of the population a job no longer provides a sense of identity or self-respect, but nothing has come along to replace it. When the Congressional Budget Office recently released a study that Obamacare will result in the equivalent in lost work hours of two million jobs by 2017, the administration tried to spin that as a positive: two million people relieved from having to work.
It was that attitude towards work that Ryan decried.
EUGENE ROBINSON, a black columnist in the Washington Post, does not accuse of Ryan of being a racist, but rather of "providing a reason for government to throw up its hands in mock helplessness." I can't speak for Ryan, but I would argue that many of current social pathologies are beyond the realm of government intervention. Many children are born today so far behind the eight-ball that it is hard to conceive of any government program that could help them overcome the deficits with which they begin life.
What government intervention could rescue a child born to a single eighteen-year-old crack addicted mother? Or as Walter Russell Mead has observed, "All the social workers in the world can't [provide]a nine-year-old child who has never seen a healthy family. . . with the kind of psychological balance and strength children get from growing up in a loving, stable family."
Robinson begins on an unpromising note: "The fundamental problem that poor people have, whether they live in decaying urban neighborhoods or depressed Appalachian valleys or small towns of the Deep South, is not enough money." If that's the problem, the government should just mint more money and hand it out. Obviously Robinson has not considered the thesis that such handouts have created incentives not to work, and as the number of those acting on those incentives has risen not working has been destigmatized. If Robinson rejects that line of causation, on what grounds?
He is on more promising ground when he argues that poor people need employment that offers hope for a better future, . . . which means they need job skills, [w]hich means they need education." I think Paul Ryan would agree with that.
The question I would ask Robinson is whether the Democratic Party has been supportive or obstructive to promoting educational initiatives and job creation. Public school teachers constitute one of the Democratic Party's largest constituent bases and are, through their unions, huge political contributors. That political marriage binds the Democratic Party to oppose school voucher programs and charter schools, which often represent the best chance for black children to escape failing public schools. Recently elected New York Mayor Bill de Blasio came into office vowing to go after charter schools, like the Harlem Academy, which had college matriculation rates far above the public schools that its students would otherwise have attended, and he has been good to his word.
Attorney-General Eric Holder recently declared it unacceptable that black students are disciplined and suspended disproportionately, and the Department of Education has issued national guidelines to combat the disparate discipline of black students. Yet one would expect more discipline problems among students coming from non-male headed households, or where the mother is extremely young or dysfunctional in some way. Those are disproportionately black households, which also helps to explain the higher incarceration rate of black males.
But the point that Robinson ought to contemplate is that not disciplining black students, as per the federal guidelines, will almost surely make schools with large black student populations more unruly and poorer educational environments. In other words, black students will be the victims of this federal intervention into school discipline ordered by the Obama administration.
On the jobs front, Democratic policies have retarded job creation, and the hardest hit have been young blacks desperately in need of first jobs. Walter Russell Mead has written of how progressive zoning laws designed to make our cities more orderly forced small manufacturing plants, car maintenance shops and the like, all of which offered entry level jobs that did not require advanced education, out of the inner cities. High tax states blue states, like New York, Illinois, and California have been hemorrhaging jobs for decades. And it is not just upper income earners who have fled. Those earners take with them the jobs of all the service industries they support.
Despite many feints to pivot to a "jobs agenda", the Obama administration has never done so. To the extent that small businesses are the primary job generators, numerous administration policies have retarded business growth: hyper-regulation that raises the cost of doing business beyond the capacity of many small business owners; Obamacare's disincentives to employers of under fifty workers to expand beyond that number of full-time workers.
The recovery since the recession of 2008 has been feeble by every measure, particularly job creation. It would be a mistake to attribute all economic problems to government policy. But the reluctance of the administration to approve the no-brainer Keystone pipeline – that oil is coming out of the ground and if it is not transported by pipeline it will be transported by trains, with far greater risk of environmental damage – demonstrates its indifference to creating well-paying jobs requiring a strong back and not necessarily an advanced education.
In short, if Robinson wants to debate whose policies will better serve America's black population and the underclass in general, Ryan will be more than happy to do so.
Related Topics: American Government & Politics, Social Issues
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