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MUHAMMAD: Republicans Really Don't Get Race

Askia Muhammad | 3/19/2014, 3 p.m.
Paul Ryan's poverty gaffe comes at a time when the GOP is trying to shed its image as an out-of-touch ...
Askia Muhammad

Face it, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is a political Rock Star. In addition to his influential position in the GOP Congressional leadership, he was Gov. Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate in the 2012 campaign. Even though she cannot compose a coherent sentence, we still read or hear about Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin almost every day, so take my word for it, Paul Ryan is here to stay.

If you let Ryan tell it, poverty is the fault of the poor. “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,” Ryan said recently in a radio interview.

Well, he ought to know. Ryan’s political career has been built around destroying government anti-poverty programs. And while insisting that his comments have nothing to do with race, he also applauded the work of right-wing social scientist Charles Murray, who argues that Black people are genetically inferior, and who famously once said: “a lot of poor people are born lazy.”

All of this comes at the moment when the GOP is trying to remake its image as an out-of-touch club for aging White males, longing for the “Good Ol' Days” when black and white TV was for the most part, all White. So in defense of one of his party’s leading lights, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told a national TV audience recently that Ryan’s misstatement was all the fault of humorless Democrats.

It was Democrats who made Ryan look and sound bad, Priebus said. “Democrats are lying in wait as well to pounce on anything.” Priebus said that Ryan really cares about poverty. He was “actually touring the country” to deal with poverty when he made his “inarticulate” comment blaming poor people for being in poverty.

So down in Texas where Republican Greg Abbott has been campaigning to succeed Gov. Rick Perry – who in a nationally televised 2012 campaign debate famously could not name the three (count them) federal agencies he would eliminate if elected president – Abbott did not suffer any backlash with GOP voters for refusing to denounce musical rock star Ted Nugent, after Nugent called President Barack Obama a “sub-human mongrel.” But it’s the Democrats’ fault that Paul Ryan looks bad for declaring that there are generations of inner-city men who have no idea about what it is to work to support themselves or their families.

It’s not like Republicans don’t know better. The Party held a session – some called it an “autopsy” – to analyze the 2012 presidential election defeat and they concluded without any tutoring from outsiders, that their White, male, demographic base is getting older and proportionately smaller as a part of the national electorate.

By 2040 or so, non-Spanish-speaking Caucasians will be a minority of the total U.S. population. In each election cycle, their numbers shrink. By as early as 2016 Latino and Black voters may already outnumber, or at least be equal to White voters. And since White voters are generally split between Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, the Green Party, anyone relying solely on White votes cannot win a national election. Sure, by gerrymandering districts in the House of Representatives so that there are more Republican-leaning White districts than there are other districts the GOP will rule the House of Representatives forever. Never mind that House Democratic candidates received 5 million more votes than did Republicans, they still have a firm majority.

So now Rep. Ryan hopes his upcoming meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) will smooth things over for him. Fat chance. What CBC members are likely to tell Ryan, possibly even using graphic language since the meeting will be behind closed doors, will be something akin to what CBC Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said politely in a letter to the Budget Committee chairman: “A serious policy conversation on poverty should not begin with assumptions or stereotypes. Poverty in our nation is a critical problem that must be approached with diligence and the utmost respect for those who are trapped by poverty’s grasp.” I wonder if Ryan or others in the GOP can “grasp” that.