“Dog whistle… I’d never even heard the phrase before, to be honest with you,” he says. The admission isn’t meant as a dodge, or an excuse. He hails from a state where “diversity” means white people swapping genealogical trivia about their Polish and Norwegian ancestry — his hometown of Janesville, Wis., is 91.7% Caucasian, according to the 2010 census — and he is coming to terms with the fact that he is not equipped with the vocabulary of a liberal arts professor. The fallout from his gaffe has been a “learning experience,” he says, one that he predicts conservatives will have to go through many more times if they are serious about building inroads to the urban poor.
“We have to be cognizant of how people hear things,” he says. “For instance, when I think of ‘inner city,’ I think of everyone. I don’t just think of one race. It doesn’t even occur to me that it could come across as a racial statement, but that’s not the case, apparently… What I learned is that there’s a whole language and history that people are very sensitive to, understandably so. We just have to better understand. You know, we’ll be a little clumsy, but it’s with the right intentions behind it.”
If the episode has brought Ryan a heightened degree of self-awareness, it has also infected his rhetoric with a persistent strain of insecurity. He is like a singer who has suddenly discovered his lack of relative pitch while on stage, and now worries that every note he’s belting out is off-key. As we talk, he chooses his words with extreme care, and is prone to halting self-censorship.
At one point, as he tells me about his efforts during the presidential race to get the Romney campaign to spend more time in urban areas, he says, “I wanted to do these inner-city tours—” then he stops abruptly and corrects himself. “I guess we’re not supposed to use that.”
Ryan's only problem is political correctness, you see. It's not like his processions of budget cuts would obliterate programs that serve the very impoverished Americans he's trying to help, right?
When Ryan released his annual budget in the beginning of April, it lacked the poverty-related proposals he had supposedly been honing for the past year. Instead, it was largely a rehash of his past budgets, focused on shrinking the deficit by scaling back federal welfare and entitlement programs. One study by the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that two-thirds of his proposed cuts came from expenditures that benefit low-income Americans.
Oops. But Ryan ambles out there among the people, trying desperately to understand poverty in America, and he's confused most of all as to why people "choose" to remain poor.
Sarah Palin would have been a comically disastrous Vice President, but Paul Ryan would have been devastating. And no amount of "Well, he's really trying hard, you guys!" reporting from BuzzFeed is going to fix the tens of billions he wants to take away from the poorest people in the country.