Blaming poverty on the mysterious influence of “culture” is a convenient excuse for doing nothing to address the problem.That is the first paragraph of Paul Ryan’s culture attack is an excuse to do nothing about poverty, Robinson's Tuesday Washington Post column, which I strongly urge all to read and pass on.
Robinson covers points after point, totally tearing apart the implicit racism of Ryan's argument, that there is culture in inner cities - read Blacks, and maybe Hispanics - that lacks a work ethic.
As Robinson writes succinctly
The fundamental problem that poor people have, whether they live in decaying urban neighborhoods or depressed Appalachian valleys or small towns of the Deep South, is not enough money.In other words, the issues is poverty, being it that of urban people of color or rural Southern Whites.
The programs that address these issues - which from the government standpoint include "money, food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance and the like" are insufficient without job skills and the jobs to which to apply those skills.
Bur rather than address these real issues, Ryan attacked a "culture" to which Robinson responds
It’s much easier to say that culture is ultimately to blame. But since there’s no step-by-step procedure for changing a culture, we end up not doing anything.Please keep reading.
By now long-time readers of this site know the high regard in which I hold Robinson's work. Long before there was a pundit round-up I would regularly write about his columns to to provide them a wider audience. I have been doing it since before he rightly won his Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
The column this morning is an example of the quality of work which earned him his honor, and led as well to his appearing as a regularly commentator on MS-NBC, starting with Keith Olbermann.
Robinson points out if by "culture" Ryan is talking about rap music and baggy pants
he ought to visit any high school in any affluent suburb, where he will find kids listening to the same music and wearing the same clothes — kids who will grow up to be doctors and lawyers.But then, someone like Ryan might have difficulty admitting that much of our popular youth culture has long come from the underclass, often from those same inner cities whose "culture" he derides.
If the breakdown of families, Robinson - like the President - would argue that is a result of poverty, not its cause, as we can see in the increasing breakup of White families including in suburbs as the economy has deteriorated, as the jobs have disappeared. And the rate of drug use is not dissimilar by race/ethnicity.
It is tempting to simply quote Robinson's final four paragraphs. They are that good.
- focusing on "culture" is a cop out, an excuse for not offering real solutions
- Robinson sees the issue as lack of opportunity, which leads to a greater likelihood of self-destructive behavior: this resonated with the professional training we had at school yesterday. Kids who see no economic opportunity find little reason to think long-term. Why work hard at school when there is no money to go to college? Why worry about jobs in the future when there are few jobs around, when you see adults unable to find meaningful employment?
Those are the key points of the first two of those paragraphs.
But I WILL let Robinson speak for himself, by offering his final two paragraphs, without subsequent commentary by me. Note in particular his final two sentences. Then read and pass on the entire column.
If we had universal pre- kindergarten that fed all children into high-quality schools, if we had affordable higher education, if we incentivized industry to invest in troubled communities — if people had options for which they were prepared — culture would take care of itself.
But all of that is expensive. Hot air, as Paul Ryan knows, is cheap.