How the Left Makes Honest Discussion on Race and Poverty Impossible

George Orwell once made this statement: “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” 

A wise observation describing bleak circumstances, sure, but I don’t think it quite captures the depths to which we’ve sunk as of 2014.  Because we have, in fact, now sunk to a depth at which intelligent men are apparently required to self-flagellate to atone for doing nothing more than restating the obvious. 

Paul Ryan, who would be recognized in any reasonable appraisal as an intelligent man, said this in an appearance in March on MSNBC’s “NewsNation”:

“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 culture of work.  There is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

Naturally, the left went nuts over the quote.  Just one example among the attacks against Ryan comes from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who called the observation a “thinly veiled racial attack” and suggested that “inner city” and “culture” are code language employed to denigrate black people. 

In response, Ryan quickly backpedaled, calling his own words inarticulate.”

It’s all seems rather absurd, doesn’t it?  Ryan’s comment was hardly “inarticulate.”  If anything, it’s a pretty succinct description of a very complex problem.  But even more absurd is the accusation that it was some sort of “veiled racial attack,” as all such attacks typically are.  Left-leaning spokesmen arguing that they have decoded some unwritten cipher meant to disparage minorities should be nothing more than bad comedy, and yet these delusions are incredibly persistent and far too seriously entertained.  As Mark Steyn has pointed out: “‘Code language’ is code language for ‘total bollocks.’  ‘Code word’ is a code word for ‘I’m inventing what you really meant to say because the actual quote doesn’t quite do the job for me.’”

It shouldn’t be surprising that the left stoops to such tactics in these situations, though.  By restating the obvious truth that there is a degradation of culture which is peculiarly manifest in inner cities, Ryan directly challenges the very touchstones of the left’s ideology.  For if redistributive social engineering programs, which have defined inner city development and culture for at least a half-century, were so incredibly effective in bettering the circumstances of those who live under them, would there be any need for such observations about inner city culture’s seemingly terminal decline?

In short, this “racial code word” nonsense is the practical application of the left’s core defense mechanism, which can be condensed thusly.  It’s much easier to ignore negative results and pitch your preferred policies than to acknowledge the negative results of the policies you are pitching.  And even better still to suggest that the mere observation of any negative results should not be considerations in gauging the efficacy of said policies, but that any such observations indicate racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and so forth.

Beset by these boilerplate attacks, Paul Ryan ventured to Capitol Hill last week to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members to discuss race and poverty, and ostensibly to defend his rather articulate “inarticulate” cultural commentary.

“We didn’t get a lot accomplished,” Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) of the CBC lamented after the meeting

And why should we have expected anything would be accomplished at all?  Ryan clearly wasn’t bending the ears of anyone interested in new ideas.  An MSNBC report states that fact plainly.  “Given his latest aid-slashing budget,” the report states, “CBC members sounded skeptical as to whether he’s actually turned over a new leaf.”

In other words, they weren’t there to have an honest policy discussion.  They were just interested in seeing whether Ryan had “turned over a new leaf,” which is to say, whether he’d gotten on the “right” side of the argument about social spending.   At least some CBC members had the expectation that his “apology” about his “inarticulate” comments meant that Ryan intended to formally denounce his own position.  They hoped that he would just admit that there is no “tailspin of culture” in inner cities, and that even more excessive public expenditures on welfare programs has been the appropriate solution all along.

To his credit, Ryan apparently didn’t do that to any significant extent, which is why the CBC went unpacified.  He stuck to his guns, saying after that the “status quo doesn’t work, we can do better.”  “We each have things to offer,” he went on.  “We will disagree on macroeconomics and budgets and things like that, hopefully out of good dialogue we can find some common ground and make a difference.”

Very nice sentiments -- political bridge-building and whatnot.  But when you consider that welfare spending budgets cannot be contracted and expanded at once, how does he expect the diametrically opposed twains will meet?

Even more to the point, how can he possibly expect that “good dialogue” or “common ground” is even a remote possibility when one side cannot even recognize the nature of the problem which indisputably exists?  The “tailspin of culture” in American inner cities is not a subjective observation, but a fact which much objective evidence substantiates beyond refutation. 

Furthermore, the observation that American blacks are uniquely afflicted by this “tailspin of culture” in American inner cities is also a fact which is beyond dispute, so it is nothing short of tragic that the Congressional Black Caucus, supposedly interested in the holistic betterment of blacks’ economic circumstances, would choose to levy charges of racism against Paul Ryan rather than address the results of governmental programs which impede the upward economic mobility of American blacks.

“Good dialogue” on this subject would indeed be a good thing.  Perhaps we could begin with the obviously correlating data suggesting that with welfare policies’ expansion has come the dissolution of family formations, leading to a cultural epidemic of fatherlessness which particularly afflicts the black community.  Or perhaps we can note that the perpetual raising of minimum wage has run in tandem with the perpetual increase in unemployment among young blacks, effectively pricing young urban workers out of the labor market, an observation which economist Thomas Sowell has expounded upon in great detail.  But you don’t even have to take his word for it.  The 70-cent increase to federal minimum wage in 2009 resulted in black teen unemployment increasing from 39% to 50%.  Might we discuss that?

These would be good starting points, sure, and I could go on.  But I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting “good dialogue” on the subject anytime soon.  “Good dialogue” is a casualty in a society so infected by militant statists.  We would do much better to simply follow Orwell’s advice.  Intelligent men, men like Paul Ryan, should continue restating the obvious, over and over, and they should do it without feeling the need to repent for having done so. 

Doing “something” to “make a difference” is not good enough.  Only doing the “right thing” to address real problems will yield positive outcomes.

William Sullivan blogs at and can be followed on Twitter.