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“Paul Ryan’s Worthless Attempt To Save Face”: Why He’s Still An Overrated Fraud

Beltway writers have recently tried to outdo themselves with breathless profiles of a “new” Paul Ryan, deeply concerned about the poor. I’ve warned repeatedly that Ryan’s views on poverty are just warmed-over Reaganism, and now we have proof. McKay Coppins’ piece “Paul Ryan Finds God” should have revealed that his God is no longer Ayn Rand but Charles Murray, the man who put a patina of (flawed) social science on Reagan’s lyrical lie, “We fought a war on poverty, and poverty won.”

But let me explain all of what it means to cite Charles Murray in 2014. Murray is so toxic that Ryan’s shout-out must be unpacked. First, Rep. Barbara Lee is absolutely right: Ryan’s comments about “inner city” men who are “not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work” are, in fact, “a thinly veiled racial attack,” in the congresswoman’s words. “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.’”

Ryan denied that Wednesday night. “This has nothing to do whatsoever with race. It never even occurred to me. This has nothing to do with race whatsoever.” On Thursday morning, he issued a statement saying he regretted being “inarticulate” in trying to make his point.

A tip for Ryan: If the racial subtext of your remarks “never even occurred to me,” as you cite a writer who has been repeatedly charged with racism, who is categorized as a “white nationalist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (I’m not sure I’d go that far), well, that in itself is a problem. As Murray himself told the New York Times about his landmark book “Losing Ground:” “A huge number of well-meaning whites fear that they are closet racists, and this book tells them they are not. It’s going to make them feel better about things they already think but do not know how to say.” Apparently Ryan is one of them, if we give him the benefit of the doubt and call him “well-meaning.”

But Murray proves you can embrace noxious racial stereotypes about African-Americans, and also hold contempt for a lot of white men, and women. He demonstrated that in his last book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” Murray argues that white people have developed the same character problems that claimed African-Americans 50 years ago, which he outlined in “Losing Ground”: They prefer shacking up to marriage, they don’t go to church, they’re lazy and dishonest and enjoy the government dole. After all, the same percent of white children are now born to single mothers – just over 25 percent — as were black children back when Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his alarms about “the Negro family.” And the reasons are largely the same: promiscuity, laziness, women who insist on equality – and lower IQ.

“Coming Apart” relies on the same ugly genetic fatalism and bogus notions of genetic differences Murray’s been peddling for years – this time among upper- and lower-income whites. In his awful book “The Bell Curve,” he relied on explicitly racist (and mostly discredited) scientists to argue that blacks and Latinos lagged behind whites and Asians in wealth and income because they had lower IQs, and the basis wasn’t centuries of oppression and deprivation but genetics. This time around Murray told his reviewers he was going to dodge the racial trap, and talk about white people. And again, he finds an IQ gap between the “cognitive elite” and lower-class whites that he says helps explain our winner-take-all society.

The other deeply offensive argument Murray makes in “Coming Apart” is that feminism helps explain the decline of work among lazy lower-class men. He approvingly cites Reagan-era anti-feminist George Gilder, author of the insane “Sexual Suicide,” who blamed women’s equality for letting women give up the job of civilizing men. “Gilder saw disaster looming as women stopped performing this function, a position derided as the worst kind of patriarchal sexism,” Murray noted. “But put in less vivid language, the argument is neither implausible nor inflammatory: The responsibilities of marriage induce young men to settle down, focus and get to work … George Gilder was mostly right.”

And again, the proof of Murray’s sexist theorizing turns out to be bogus geneticism:

There are genetic reasons, rooted in the mechanisms of human evolution, why little boys who grow up in neighborhoods without married fathers tend to reach adolescence not socialized to the norms of behavior that they will need to stay out of prison and hold jobs….[Liberals] will have to acknowledge that the traditional family plays a special, indispensable role in human flourishing and that social policy must be based on that truth.

All of that helps explain why Ryan thinks he can get away with insisting, “This has nothing to do with race whatsoever.” Rick Santorum pulled the same trick when he claimed he didn’t say “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them other people’s money.” (It gets funnier every year that we were supposed to believe he said “blah people.”) Santorum, too, quoted Charles Murray and “Coming Apart” on the campaign trail, and even said explicitly that white people were coming to share the same “dependency” on government that had ruined African-Americans.

But it’s worth noting that even with all the evidence that Murray is now stigmatizing a lot of white people, Paul Ryan is still using dog-whistle racist language like “inner city” to share his concern about poor people lacking “a culture of work”. In denying any racism behind his remarks, he actually didn’t use the best evidence he could have mustered. He didn’t have the courage to say, “Hey, my boy Charles Murray thinks lower-income white people are lazy and shiftless, too!” But that would require insulting much of the GOP base. Ryan’s too ambitious for that.

I once foolishly believed Murray’s equal-opportunity contempt for the poor and working class might wake up those struggling white folks that he and his Republican admirers disrespect. That didn’t happen, because outside of the rarefied confines of right-wing think tanks and the occasional Rick Santorum speech, they don’t talk about white people that way. The folks Murray – and Ryan – hold in contempt went big for Romney-Ryan in 2012.

But there’s one final reason that Paul Ryan’s hailing a “culture of work” and stigmatizing government assistance is particularly offensive. This is the same Paul Ryan whose family’s construction firm fattened itself on government contracts; who received Social Security survivor benefits after his father died and used that public money to put himself through college; who then went on the government payroll and has never done anything other than attack poor people while on the government’s dime; who makes $174,000 a year in taxpayer dollars while keeping himself camera-ready with his PDX90 routine (Paul Ryan shirtless is still one of the top prompts on Google); who enjoys $350 bottles of wine thanks to lobbyists; and then dumps on the lazy, immoral inner-city poor with gambling addict and fellow government assistance recipient Bill Bennett.

This is the guy to whom the GOP is outsourcing its anti-poverty policy. Maybe he can hook the “inner city poor” up to the gravy train he’s ridden his entire life.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 13, 2014

 

March 14, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Privilege Of Whiteness”: Since White Is The Default Setting, There’s No Such Thing As White Crime

As a biracial child who spent part of his youth abroad, Barack Obama learned the feeling of otherness and became attuned to how he was perceived by those around him. As a politician, he knew well that many white people saw him as a vehicle for their hopes for a post-racial society. Even if those hopes were somewhat naïve, they came from a sincere and admirable desire, and he was happy to let those sentiments carry him along. Part of the bargain, though, was that he had to be extremely careful about how he talked about race, and then only on the rarest of occasions. His race had to be a source of hope and pride—for everybody—but not of displeasure, discontent, or worst of all, a grievance that would demand redress. No one knew better than him that everything was fine only as long as we all could feel good about Barack Obama being black.

So when he made his unexpected remarks about Trayvon Martin on Friday, Obama was stepping into some dangerous territory. By talking about his own experience as a black man, he was trying to foster both understanding and empathy, to explain to white Americans why the Martin case has caused so much consternation and pain among black Americans. The petty (and not so petty) daily suspicion and indignities and mistreatment black people are talking about? Even I, the most powerful human being on the planet, know it well.

In doing so—and by saying “it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching”—he may have implicitly encouraged white people to think about their own privilege, the privilege of whiteness. Privilege is a dangerous word, one that raises lots of hackles, and one Obama himself would never, ever use. But it’s inescapable.

Despite the way people react when the word is introduced, acknowledging your own privilege doesn’t cost anything. I grew up in a home with lots of books, in a town with good schools, in a country with extraordinary opportunities. I benefited hugely from them all, though I created none of them. I may have earned my current job as a writer, but compared to the labors of those who wait tables or clean houses or do factory work, it’s so absurdly pleasant you can barely call it work at all. But more to the point, in all my years I’ve never been stopped by a cop who just wanted to know who I was and what I was up to. I’ve never been accused of “furtive movements,” the rationale New York City police use for the hundreds of thousands of times every year they question black and Hispanic men. I’ve never been frisked on the street, and nobody has ever responded with fear when I got in an elevator. That’s not because of my inherent personal virtue. It’s because I’m white.

I will never have to sit my children down and give them a lengthy talk about what to do and not to do when they encounter the police. That’s the talk so many black parents make sure to give their children, one filled with detailed instructions about how to not appear threatening, how to diffuse tension, what to do with your hands when you get pulled over, and how to end the encounter without being arrested or beaten. I can tell my children, “Don’t do anything stupid,” and that will probably be enough. I worry about them as much as any parent, but there are some things I don’t have to worry about.

Because of my privilege, I also don’t have to concern myself with how strangers are thinking of me when I leave the house, because their thoughts will bear on me not a whit. Amir “Questlove” Thompson, drummer for The Roots and bandleader for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, wrote last week about how he is constantly made aware of the fact that, as a large black man, he makes other people uncomfortable. “My friends know that I hate parking lots and elevators, not because they are places that danger could occur, but it’s a prime place in which someone of my physical size can be seen as a dangerous element. I wait and wait in cars until I feel it’s safe for me to make people feel safe.” Privilege means not spending any mental energy worrying about how you make other people feel by your very presence. Privilege means never having the thought even occur to you.

My privilege as a white man is to be unnoticed if I choose, because when I step into an elevator or walk through a store or pass a cop on the street, I’m an individual. No one looks at me and says, “Hmm—white guy there,” because I’m the default setting. I’m not suspicious, I’m not a potential criminal, I ring no alarm bells in anyone’s head. And that is a gift. Even as an adult, Barack Obama, the “articulate and bright and clean” Harvard-educated lawyer, had something in common with Trayvon Martin and every other 17-year-old black kid: the presumption of suspicion with which they found themselves treated. They couldn’t just be themselves. To so many people, they were a type, and a bad one at that, or at least assumed to be of a lesser station. So a fellow guest at a posh party in 2003 could walk up to state Senator Obama and ask him to fetch the man a drink. Has that happened to you?

Privilege is also not worrying that the deeds of other people who are like you in some way will reflect poorly on you. As Jamelle Bouie wrote last week, at times like this, some conservatives will always bring up the idea of “black on black” crime as a justification for the presumption that young black men are criminals, but we never speak about “white on white” crime. The reason? When a white person robs a liquor store or beats someone up or commits insider trading, we see it as just a crime, not a crime that has anything to do with the whiteness of the perpetrator. Since white is the default setting, there’s no such thing as white crime. Each white criminal is just himself.

And retaining your individuality means you’re granted an exemption from some kinds of costs. Last week The Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen wrote a remarkable column arguing that it’s perfectly reasonable to treat all black men like criminal suspects, since there are some black men who commit crimes. As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted, Cohen was “arguing for a kind of racist public safety tax” that black men should be forced to pay. Sure, most black men are perfectly law-abiding, but since some aren’t, you sir are just going to have to put up with getting stopped and frisked, getting followed by store security, and getting pulled over even when you haven’t been speeding. If you’re white, that’s a tax you will never have to pay, because you will be treated as an individual.

As a white person, I’ll continue to enjoy this privilege almost no matter who I am or what I do. In my heart I could be the most kind-hearted humanitarian or the most vile sociopath. I could be assiduously law-abiding or a serial killer. I can dress in a suit or in torn jeans and a hoodie, and no one will react to me with fear or suspicion, because if they don’t know me they will assume they know nothing. I am myself, nothing more or less. That’s privilege.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 22, 2013

July 23, 2013 Posted by | Racism | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Making Whiteness Visible”: We Are Not Trayvon Martin

If there is one hopeful note amidst all the anguish and recrimination from the acquittal of George Zimmerman, it’s that growing numbers of white people have come to appreciate whiteness for what it is: an unearned set of privileges. And as a result of that dawning awareness, it’s become possible to imagine a day when that structure of privilege is dismantled – by white people.

Recall that immediately after the killing of Trayvon Martin, people of every race took to the Internet to declare “I Am Trayvon Martin.” They wore hoodies. They proclaimed solidarity. That was a well-meaning and earnest attempt to express empathy, but it also obscured the core issue, which is that Martin died not because he was wearing a hoodie but because he was wearing a hoodie while black. Blackness was the fatal variable.

And so now, post-verdict, a more realistic meme has taken root. On Tumblr and Facebook and elsewhere there is a new viral phenomenon: “We Are Not Trayvon Martin” (emphasis mine). Huge numbers of white Americans are posting testimonials and images to declare that it is precisely because they are not black that they have never had to confront the awful choices Martin faced when Zimmerman began to pursue him.

This isn’t about empathy or the posture of equivalency that empathy can tempt us to assume. It’s about owning up to the unequal privilege of being non-black and saying, in essence, “I Am George Zimmerman.” And because I am George Zimmerman, I get to have my fears trump reality. I get get-out-of-jail-free cards. I get a presumption of innocent victimhood, no matter what my own acts or attitudes.

Much has been made about the fact that Zimmerman is white and of Hispanic ethnicity, as if he therefore couldn’t possibly embody white privilege. This is a deep misreading of the dynamics of race and the media in America. As an Asian American, I am endlessly frustrated by how binary and black-and-white – literally and figuratively – the portrayal of race is in our country. Much of the time Asian Americans are an afterthought, or simply presumed foreign. But I assume that had I been the neighborhood watchman that day in Florida, I would have been understood in the media as the non-black actor. Which is to say, for the limited purposes of this trial, I would have been granted “honorary white” status – whether or not I wanted it.

Whiteness is the unspoken, invisible default setting of American life. We frame our conversations about race in terms of how white people see and what they think they see. We imagine that nonwhite Americans want to be more like white Americans. We imagine that to be American is to be white. When racial minorities complain about the slurs of a Paula Deen or a prank like the faked names of the Asiana pilots, they are often told by whites to stop being so sensitive or to take the context of tradition or history or humor into account. That ability, to dismiss and minimize people of color for being oversensitive, is itself one of the privileges that whiteness confers. The broader privilege that whites have by occupying the omniscient vantage point in media and civic life has to be named and then undone.

How will it be undone? Not, in the end, by the work of communities of color alone. Minority groups can and must be vigilant, vocal advocates for fair treatment and representation in public life. But if America is to transcend its long conflation of whiteness with Americanness, it will fall to white people – those wise enough to see they are not Trayvon and humane enough not to become George – to lead us all to that promised land.

 

By: Eric Liu, Time, July 17, 2013

July 18, 2013 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity, Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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