Rep. Barbara Lee of California has become the latest Democrat to try to avoid unpleasant truths by crying “racism.”

The Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan was talking about poverty on Bill Bennett’s radio show last week and said this:  

"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 so there’s a cultural problem that has to be dealt with."

"Everyone has got to get involved…So this is what we talk about when we talk about civil society, if you’re driving from the suburbs to the sports arena downtown by these blighted neighborhoods, you can’t just say: I’m paying my taxes and government is going to fix that. You need to get involved. You need to get involved yourself – whether through a good mentor program or some religious charity, whatever it is to make a difference. And that’s how we help resuscitate our culture."

In response California Democrat Rep. Barbara Lee said this:

“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.’”

Well, no, Ryan was talking about conditions and habits that create poverty in the inner city and urging all of us to get involved in solving these problems.

Ryan later apologized for what he called an “inarticulate” formulation.

But of course Ryan had been extremely articulate. That was his problem: he clearly stated things Rep. Lee would prefer not to recognize.

It’s a shame that she’d rather attack Ryan than talk about the issues he raised. Lee was only interested in shutting Ryan up, and it could be argued that his apology only egged her on.  

It didn’t take lefty Guardian columnist  Ana Marie Cox long to jump on the racism bandwagon. Cox penned a column in which she asserted that Ryan was accusing all African-Americans of being lazy. A ridiculous assertion that only proves Cox read Lee’s statement but either missed or willfully misunderstood what Ryan originally said.

Cox was taking Rep. Lee’s politically motivated criticism of Ryan and running with it instead of looking for ways to alleviate inner city poverty.

There is a culture of poverty among some men in our inner cities. It has been generations of men who have grown up without fathers and without seeing men going out to work in the morning, and coming home at night. Is Rep. Lee denying that there is fatherlessness among African Americans? Does she dispute the figure that 72 percent of African American babies are born to single parents? And as for a culture of not working, does Rep. Lee have numbers that disprove the government estimate? Pew says that black unemployment has consistently been twice that of whites. “In 1954, the earliest year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has consistent unemployment data by race, the white rate averaged 5% and the black rate averaged 9.9%. Last month, the jobless rate among whites was 6.6%; among blacks, 12.6%. Over that time, the unemployment rate for blacks has averaged about 2.2 times that for whites.”

If Republicans want to talk about tough public policy issues, such as poverty and the destruction of the family, they are going to have to develop tougher skins. In a way, I wish Ryan hadn’t apologized. He certainly hadn’t said anything that requires one.

Democrat who cry racism are generally doing it for one reason: to shut their opposition down. Republicans and especially those with aspirations to national office should stop falling for this diversionary tactic and start pressing Democrats to quit changing the subject and to address pressing economic issues.  

Echoing these sentiments, Ron Christie defends Ryan in this Daily Beat column, and correctly chastises Rep. Lee:

“Why don’t you call out the young black men who impregnate young black women before moving on to be a ‘baby daddy’ to yet another young black woman whose chances of graduating from high school or college become daunting.

“Rather than criticizing Rep. Paul Ryan for issuing a clarion call for factors that have led to endemic poverty in the United States 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson sought to stem the tide of impoverished Americans, we should applaud him for speaking truth to power that Representative Barbara Lee and other Members of the Congressional Black Caucus—the “Conscience of the Congress” as they call themselves—have largely sought to ignore.”

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