Rep. Paul Ryan says he was misunderstood, mischaracterized. Now he says he was “inarticulate” in his discussion of a cultural aversion to work afflicting men in American “inner cities.” It is true that even for those operating in good faith the topic of entrenched poverty in socially and economically isolated urban areas can be treacherous to navigate. Persistent joblessness creates social ills that build upon themselves – isolation from capital, educational opportunities, being around persistent violence all reinforce each other. And none lead to anything good. But Ryan can’t get any pass because he simply doesn’t fit into this group of people operating in anything like good faith.
When you start off by basing your arguments around the work of Charles Murray you just lose your credibility from the start as someone actually interested in addressing poverty or joblessness or really doing anything other than coming up with reasons to cut off what little assistance society provides for its most marginalized members or, alternatively, pumping up people with racial resentments against black people and giving them ersatz ‘scholarship’ to justify their racial antipathies.
That’s because Murray’s public career has been based on pushing the idea that black urban poverty is primarily the fault of black people and their diseased ‘culture.’ Relatedly, and more controversially, he has argued that black people are genetically inferior to white people and other notional races with regards to intelligence. Yes, that last part should be crystal clear: Murray is best known for attempting to marshal social science evidence to argue that black people are genetically not as smart as white people.
A more generous view of Murray’s work is that he is the top scholarly exponent of what we might call neo-social darwinism: the idea that society’s have-nots and marginalized are mainly have-not and marginalized because they act badly and have innate tendencies that leave the poor and disordered. Rather than try to address problems like poverty with social and policy interventions it’s better to exercise a sort of benign neglect which will constrain some of these people to learn better life skills, eschew their ‘ghetto culture’, stop misbehaving or simply stop acting on incentives to keep having more similarly disordered, substandard intelligence children.
Ryan may say that his discussion of the “inner city” has nothing to do with race. But Murray, the guy he explicitly and implicitly cites, is very clear that it has quite a lot to do with race. Particularly the race of people who are black.
Discussing urban poverty, policy responses and race ain’t easy. But when you push the idea that the ills of the country’s “inner cities” are the product of the intergenerational laziness of the (inner city = black) men in those cities and then cite the work of a purported scholar who argues that blacks are genetically inferior to white people … well, the chances of your being ‘misunderstood’ or ‘taken out of context’ become extremely high.