Two weeks ago, I wrote about Paul Ryan’s Racist Dog Whistle. This was about his contention that poverty was the result of lazy inner city men. Despite much contention to the contrary, it was pure racist dog whistle politics. Since then, Paul Ryan has gone around trying to prove that he isn’t racist. And it was in the service of that goal that he ended up on Bill O’Reilly’s The Factor Tuesday night.
The appearance was mostly notable because Bill O’Reilly used the opportunity to get his racist hate on. But Joan Walsh noticed some really interesting things in her article, Paul Ryan’s Endless “I Am Not a racist” Tour. Ryan used fellow Representative Barbara Lee from nearby Oakland to claim he wasn’t a racist. “She knows me well,” he said. “And she knows that I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” You know the drill. It’s the modern version of, “Some of my best friends are black!” The nice black lady says he ain’t racist so he ain’t.
But as Walsh points out, after using Barbara Lee for political cover, he stood by while Bill O’Reilly savaged her, calling her a “race hustler.” Conservatives like Paul Ryan are in a tough place. They know that it is no longer okay to be explicitly racist. But their ideological appeal still depends upon racism. I don’t know where Walsh stands on the issue, but to me it is very simple: Paul Ryan is a racist. People seem to miss the fact that outward signs of racism change over time. Just because Ryan isn’t a fire breathing bigot who uses the n-word doesn’t mean that he isn’t racist. As I wrote when I first covered the issue:
This all comes from to Lee Atwater’s infamous “nigger, nigger, nigger” quote. It doesn’t really matter what’s going on inside Paul Ryan’s pea brain. He can be nice to every black man he meets on the street. The fact is that the policies he pushes harm the poor and enrich the wealthy. And given that our society is already racist and so blacks are more likely to be poor, his policies primarily hurt them. Or as Lee Atwater would put it, all the policies Paul Ryan is “talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is: blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
It doesn’t really matter how he got to those policies. And notice: you could have said the same thing about poll taxes. You could have said the same thing about “literacy” tests. The people who push them always claim that they aren’t about race. But when we look back on them we see that of course they were about race. And that will be true in 40 years when people look back on Paul Ryan’s “culture of dependency” argument.