Crying 'racism' to drown out ideas

Published on Wednesday, 19 March 2014 21:15 - Written by

Crying “racism” 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.

Here’s what Ryan said on a talk show last week:

“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 the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

The statement is artless, perhaps, but it’s based in fact. Where poverty is concentrated, cycles do develop. That’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 “culture of poverty” dates back to Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan — it’s not some Republican “dog whistle” as Krugman claims. Even the left-leaning Brookings Institute said in 2010, “Culture is back on the poverty research agenda.”

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.

“Just to be clear, there’s no evidence that Mr. Ryan is personally a racist, and his dog-whistle may not even have been deliberate,” Krugman wrote in his New York Times column. “But it doesn’t matter. He said what he said because that’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.”

Let’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 “American conservatives”) are racist. What’s his evidence? His straw-man argument that conservatives think liberals are “taking away your hard-earned money” to give to minorities.

That’s not Ryan’s argument, nor the argument that any prominent Republican is making. At all. Instead, Ryan and the GOP argue that liberal welfare programs aren’t working. What has the “war on poverty” yielded? Certainly not a lessening of poverty in America. Ryan’s focus is on finding things that do work. And he rightly recognizes that “fixing” poverty begins by changing hearts and mindsets and culture. It doesn’t stop there, of course, and Ryan realizes that — which is why he’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 isn’t whether Ryan’s ideas are good or bad, it’s that they were never heard. That’s because claims of racism stopped the conversation cold.