I thought of Swift’s “Modest Proposal” the other day listening to the ever-so-reasonable Rep. Paul Ryan explain that America’s poor have only themselves to blame.
“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular,” Ryan explained, “of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”
Any question who he was talking about? As several commentators have noted, this business about “inner city” men not working isn’t so much Republican “dog whistle” as GOP air-raid siren.
Ryan has since alibied that he’d been “inarticulate” and wasn’t trying to implicate “the culture of one community.” This came soon after a speech in which he’d told a heartfelt tale of a small boy who didn’t want a “free lunch from a government program,” but a Mommy-made lunch in a brown paper bag that showed somebody cared about him.
Coming from a guy busily trying to cut funding for school lunch programs and food stamps, this was pretty rich. Also, apparently, apocryphal. The witness who’d told Ryan the tale in a congressional hearing had not only swiped it from a book called “The Invisible Thread,” but reversed its meaning. Which wasn’t so much that government assistance, as Ryan warned, threatens to leave children with “a full stomach and an empty soul,” but that sermons mean very little to hungry children.
Delivered just before St. Patrick’s Day, Ryan’s disquisition upon the undeserving poor earned him the scorn of the New York Times’ Timothy Egan. Taking note of Ryan’s great-great-grandfather, who emigrated to the United States during the catastrophic Irish famine of the 1840s, Egan pointed out that Ryan’s words echoed the rhetoric of Victorian Englishmen content to let his ancestors die lest they become dependent upon charity.