Video ricocheted around the Web Monday of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan “getting testy” with a Flint, Michigan, ABC reporter who asked him about urban gun violence. Ryan was presented by the Huffington Post as acting inappropriately in the interview out of disdain for the “liberal media.” That’s not exactly what was happening. There is a lot more to it worth considering.
First, Ryan made comments that fly in the face of right-wing conviction that President Obama opposes the Second Amendment as it is widely interpreted today and is only waiting for a viable opportunity to enact a plan to disarm the citizenry.
“We don’t have a gun problem,” Ryan tells the reporter. “This country has a crime problem… I mean, if you take a look at the gun laws we have in this country, I don’t think even President Obama is proposing more gun laws. We have good strong gun laws. We have to make sure we enforce our laws.”
Ryan is an icon of the Tea Party right and in the video he flatly dismisses a conspiracy-driven engine of conservative resentment and activism for the last four years.
Here’s the Daily Caller from July in a piece that was recommended on Facebook 15,000 times:
[H]ere we stand, perhaps unaware of the insidious actions of the Obama administration, and therefore, perhaps unprepared for the all-out assault that will soon be launched against the Second Amendment — against that right which is “necessary to the security of a free state.” At this very moment in time, the Obama administration is working “under the radar” to secure gun control measures which will circumvent the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Constitution…
The fear is that the administration is planning to enforce a treaty with the United Nations that will effectively end the right to bear arms. Ryan isn’t going for it.
Next, the video underscores what the New York Times this weekend called the “anti-urban” stance of the contemporary Republican Party, a stance that essentially dismisses the challenges faced by the rough 240 million Americans (“The 80 percent!”) who live in or near the cities of this country and who mostly vote for Democratic candidates.
In the video, unprompted, Ryan keeps referring to “the inner-city,” a term from the past that referred to high-poverty-high-crime ethnic urban areas– areas, depending on the city, where there’s often not a lot of crime now and where real estate frequently lists in the millions.
“The best thing to help prevent crime in the inner-cities is to bring opportunity to the inner-cities, to help people get out of [bed] in the inner-cities, is to help teach people good discipline, good character,” Ryan says. “That is civil society. That is what charity and civic groups and churches do to help one another make sure they can realize the values of one another.”
As author Kevin Baker argued in the Times, Republicans now sound removed and anachronistic like this when they [are forced] to talk about U.S. urban policy because they don’t prioritize urban policy. “Republicans to Cities: Drop Dead” read the headline over Baker’s piece.
The “very few sections” that address urban concerns in this year’s 31,000-word Republican party platform, Baker wrote, “contain complaints about cities’ current priorities– not to mention the very idea of city life.” He notes that the three people chairing the party’s platform committee live in states without any densely populated urban centers: North Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia.
After Ryan in the news-clip rolls out his vague vision on preventing urban crime through increased opportunity and tough love modeled on charity and church initiatives, the ABC reporter demonstrates skepticism with a flip reference to “tax breaks,” which GOP critics now routinely mock as the knee-jerk Republican policy cure all.
The exchange was “testy” not because Ryan is a jerk or because the reporter is a biased liberal, but because it featured a Republican politician from the hinterlands and a reporter from the greater-Detroit area that has suffered for decades from the sinking tax revenues and crumbling public services that characterize the post-industrial rust belt.