Paul Ryan and this reporter from Michigan’s WJRT manage to pack an impressive amount of hostility into 90 seconds. My sense of any given Ryan interview is colored by the fear that he is going to lunge forward and drink my blood, but he seems not to have handled this one well. The abrupt end, followed by his staffer’s genius attempt to cover the camera lens with a piece of paper, overshadows what he actually says. But what he says is kind of awful—long quote after the jump.
Here’s how Paul Ryan responds to the question, does America have a gun problem?:
The best thing to help prevent violent crime in the inner cities is to bring opportunity in the inner cities, is to help people get out of poverty in the inner cities, is to help teach people good discipline, good character. That is civil society. That’s what charities and civic groups and churches do to help one another make sure that they can realize the value in one another.
Then the reporter asks an obviously derisive question and the whole thing descends into white-professional passive aggression.
It’s a shame he blew it, because the spectacle of everyone standing up and glaring at one another distracts from the progression of Ryan’s thought. That progression is revelatory. Ryan’s initial dodge, from does America have a gun problem? to we have a crime problem, is textbook avoidance. If you’re against gun control, insistently talking about crime not only dodges the question but shifts discussion to a subject that makes people think about buying a gun in the first place. It’s a dirty move, but it’s so common among politicians as to absolve Ryan of fault, like when a clown’s pants fall down.
The next leap, from gun crime to inner cities, is where Ryan gets weird. In moving from gun problem to crime problem to inner cities, he invokes the unspoken truth of America’s gun control debate: the same guns that are a god-given right in suburban basements are morally wrong in housing projects. In a gross way, that is true; the victims of gun homicides in the US are disproportionately black and latino. And as any voter or urban radio programmer will tell you, “inner city” means “not white.” It so happens that the responsible gun owners whose rights Ryan wants to protect—partly so they can defend themselves from the irresponsible gun owners in inner cities—divide along similarly racial lines.
But you can’t say that on TV—gun problem=crime=inner cities will have to do. In asserting that the best way to prevent urban crime is to fight urban poverty, Ryan damn near espouses the other party’s philosophy. Money, jobs and economic growth are the GOP solution to pretty much every problem right now, so why not crime? Answer: because that’s socialism. Crime doesn’t come from socioeconomic disparity; it comes from criminals. Ryan can’t say that poor people kill each other with guns, because that would imply guns are a social problem analogous to urban poverty.
As we know, America doesn’t have a gun problem. Poor people, which is to say urban criminals, have a character problem. They need to learn “good discipline,” which they can do from “charities and civic groups and churches”—basically any organization that is not government. Now Ryan finds himself back in conservative territory. Poor black and latino men in cities get murdered with guns because they don’t “realize the value in one another.” And obviously we should not stop selling handheld machines that allow Americans to kill one another by pressing a button just because a bunch of people do not value human life.
From a man who uses “personal responsibility” like a comma, such reasoning implies a massive abdication of control. He defends the right of gun ownership for the whole nation, and the guns that murder people are A) localized in inner cities and therefore B) not his responsibility, because C) those murders are caused by poverty, not guns. The whole GOP platform dictates that poverty is not Ryan’s responsibility, either, so the best way to keep poor people from killing each other is to teach them discipline and respect for human life.
That sounds much easier than passing a law about handguns. Our man at WJRT in Flint seems to sense the weird ambiguity at the center of Ryan’s plan, but he wasn’t really listening and so goes with taxes. Yes, the Romney/Ryan tax plan is a donut of outcomes with a causality hole at the center. But so is Paul Ryan himself, and the events of this video just miss making that clear. Instead we get the spectacle of a walkout, and we know no more about this man’s beliefs than we did before. Ryan wins again.