In 1965, future U.S. senator and then assistant secretary of labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a seminal report that began the process of changing the way America approached the issue of inner city poverty. The report, “The Negro Family: The Case for Action” raised a storm of controversy because it noted the impact of the breakdown of the nuclear family and the destructive nature of the culture of urban ghettos in which work was devalued. Rather than economics determining the social conditions, the report pointed out that the opposite was true.
Though he traced the roots of this depressing pattern back to slavery and Jim Crow discrimination, Moynihan was blasted as a racist and for denigrating blacks. But for those who truly cared about helping the poor and doing something about the way the welfare state had created a permanent urban underclass, the report was prophetic and helped pave the way for future efforts to reform welfare.
But for those who still make a living from race baiting and diverting the attention of the country from the facts about what produces multi-generational poverty, the truth of Moynihan’s conclusions are still blasphemy. Such persons lie in wait not only to derail efforts to address the problems of the black family and urban poverty but to tar all those who speak about the issue as racists in the same way that Moynihan was attacked nearly 50 years ago. And it is into just such a trap that Rep. Paul Ryan walked earlier this week when Rep. Barbara Lee blasted him.
Ryan was forced to backtrack yesterday from remarks he made on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show in which he spoke of the problems of poverty, family, and work in blighted neighborhoods. As Politico reports, Ryan said the following:
“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,” he said, urging everyone to get involved in blighted communities even if they live in the suburbs.
Lee responded with this statement:
My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black,’” Lee said.
Ryan denied he was attacking blacks but said that perhaps he had not fully articulated what he was trying to say.
What is most unfortunate about this is not just the way our political culture rewards hypocrites like Lee for crying racism where none exists or that Ryan felt that he had to apologize for saying something that is not only factual but painfully obvious. Rather, the real problem here is that all these years after Moynihan first took the heat for breaking the silence about what causes the cycle of poverty, speaking the truth about the subject is still controversial.
For people like Lee and a host of other racial inciters and their liberal media enablers like Ana Marie Cox, the imperative to address the breakdown of the culture of work and family in poverty-stricken areas is still trumped by their need to use the racist label as a political weapon.
What makes this even more pathetic is that the patterns that Moynihan first wrote about in 1965 now apply to other groups afflicted by poverty. The epidemic of fatherless homes and single mothers on welfare has long since ceased being primarily a black problem but become one that impacts whites and other groups just as harshly. To claim that talking about this vicious cycle of poverty and government dependency is a matter of code words about race is not only a canard but also outdated.
This sorry chapter teaches us that as much as we may think we have transcended the past, the race baiters are bound and determined to see to it that the country doesn’t learn the lessons from decades of failed liberal policies. Race has nothing to this. What this country needs are more people in public life like Ryan who are knowledgeable enough to speak about this basic problem and fewer who thrive on avoiding honest discussions about poverty.