Crying â€śracismâ€ť effectively ends any legitimate debate. So why do the Democrats do it so often, if their ideas really are better? The most recent disturbing example is economist Paul Krugman, a close advisor to President Obama.
Krugman takes issue with remarks made by Congressman Paul Ryan, a man who is unquestionably concerned about the poor.
Hereâ€™s what Ryan said on a talk show last week:
â€śWe 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 the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.â€ť
The statement is artless, perhaps, but itâ€™s based in fact. Where poverty is concentrated, cycles do develop. Thatâ€™s true of Appalachia as well as the inner city. When joblessness and dependency become multi-generational, those conditions become accepted as the norm. The phrase â€śculture of povertyâ€ť dates back to Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan â€” itâ€™s not some Republican â€śdog whistleâ€ť as Krugman claims. Even the left-leaning Brookings Institute said in 2010, â€śCulture is back on the poverty research agenda.â€ť
We do know that welfare reform of the 1990s was most successful when it helped people move from welfare to work, and least successful where it failed to link benefits to work, education or job training.
But is the statement racist? Many, including Krugman, claim it is.
â€śJust to be clear, thereâ€™s no evidence that Mr. Ryan is personally a racist, and his dog-whistle may not even have been deliberate,â€ť Krugman wrote in his New York Times column. â€śBut it doesnâ€™t matter. He said what he said because thatâ€™s the kind of thing conservatives say to each other all the time. And why do they say such things? Because American conservatism is still, after all these years, largely driven by claims that liberals are taking away your hard-earned money and giving it to Those People.â€ť
Letâ€™s break down that statement.
First, while Krugman seems to be giving Ryan a pass for the statement, he actually uses it to claim that all Republicans (or at least â€śAmerican conservativesâ€ť) are racist. Whatâ€™s his evidence? His straw-man argument that conservatives think liberals are â€śtaking away your hard-earned moneyâ€ť to give to minorities.
Thatâ€™s not Ryanâ€™s argument, nor the argument that any prominent Republican is making. At all. Instead, Ryan and the GOP argue that liberal welfare programs arenâ€™t working. What has the â€śwar on povertyâ€ť yielded? Certainly not a lessening of poverty in America. Ryanâ€™s focus is on finding things that do work. And he rightly recognizes that â€śfixingâ€ť poverty begins by changing hearts and mindsets and culture. It doesnâ€™t stop there, of course, and Ryan realizes that â€” which is why heâ€™s an advocate for reforming, not abolishing, assistance programs such as Medicaid and food stamps and the various (duplicative) housing programs.
The real issue here isnâ€™t whether Ryanâ€™s ideas are good or bad, itâ€™s that they were never heard. Thatâ€™s because claims of racism stopped the conversation cold.