Race, Ryan and Lazy-Day Hammocks

Commenting on Paul Ryan’s “remarks in which he attributed persistent poverty to a “culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working,” Paul Krugman points out that it wasn’t simply Ryan being inarticulate, as he later claimed, but that since the GOP can’t face the facts about poverty in America they respond to the only dog-whistle they understand: race — “the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics.”

NY Times: Krugman

And for more on Congressman Ryan, who likes to hearken back to his famine-Irish forebears, have a look at Timothy Eagan’s justified take-down of the Ryan rhetoric about “culture of dependency”  and “a safety net that becomes a lazy-day hammock.”  It is the same stuff the British said about the famine-Irish, exactly.

The Irish historian John Kelly, who wrote a book on the great famine, was the first to pick up on these echoes of the past during the 2012 presidential campaign. “Ryan’s high-profile economic philosophy,” he wrote then, “is the very same one that hurt, not helped, his forebears during the famine — and hurt them badly.”

Said Ryan:

“We have this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” In other words, these people are bred poor and lazy.

Where have I heard that before? asks Eagan.

Ah, yes — 19th-century England. The Irish national character, Trevelyan confided to a fellow aristocrat, was “defective.” The hungry millions were “a selfish, perverse, and turbulent” people, said the man in charge of relieving their plight.

And the hammock?

“We entered a cabin. Stretched in one dark corner, scarcely visible from the smoke and rags that covered them, were three children huddled together, lying there because they were too weak to rise, pale and ghastly … perfectly emaciated, eyes sunk, voice gone, and evidently in the last stage of actual starvation.”

The Irish Famine, 1845-1849, (1900). Artist: Unknown

The Irish Famine, 1845-1849, (1900). Artist: Unknown

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