Rep. Paul Ryan Blames Economic Woes On "Moral Relativism" And "People Just Having No Work Ethic"

November 18, 2011 2:56 pm ET — Alan Pyke

Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) chief accomplishment is getting his budget outline passed by the House GOP earlier this year. But since then, the focus of our political conversation has shifted from slash-and-burn myopia to economic inequality and income mobility. In that new light, Ryan's attempt to slash Pell grants and allow states to pull back Medicaid benefits to the poor while cutting taxes for the rich to historic lows doesn't look so shiny.

Ryan's attempts to steer the conversation back into friendlier territory have been clumsy and dishonest at best, and his latest — in an interview with the conservative American Enterprise Institute — is outright insulting. From a response "on education and keeping America competitive":

I hear from so many businesses these days that actually we can hire people but we can't find people with the skills. And that's a big deal.

Part of it is the culture of people just having no work ethic — coming to work on time and all those issues — and when people are out of work for more than year, their skills really start to atrophy. That's what's really terrible about this.

In the same week that Republicans misrepresented a comment by President Obama to claim that he'd called Americans lazy, their very "serious" budget guru actually said that part of our current problem is a "culture of people just having no work ethic." (Republicans routinely claim the unemployed are lazy.)

But wait, there's more. Here's Ryan "on income mobility for the poorest Americans:"

Education is at the heart of it all, but the culture is, too. Moral relativism has done so much damage to the bottom end of this country, the bottom fifth has been damaged by the culture of moral relativism more than by anything else, I would argue. If you ask me what the biggest problem in America is, I'm not going to tell you debt, deficits, statistics, economics — I'll tell you it's moral relativism.

Pay no attention to the crumbling schools, outsourced manufacturing jobs, and financial deregulation behind the curtain. Poor people wouldn't stay poor if they just had a work ethic and some moral fiber. So says Paul Ryan, while pushing for policies that would put education further out of reach for many of those lazy moral relativists.

In a sense this is the natural next rhetorical step for Ryan, who has struggled to downplay economic inequality as the political ground shifts beneath him. Now that it's impossible to ignore the issue, why wouldn't he resort to blaming the victims of the Wall Street collapse for their poverty?

But in another sense this is a dramatic break from Ryan's reputation as an earnest wonk. He's thrown in his lot with ideological zealots like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and 2012 dark horse Rick Santorum, who insist that stronger morality and traditional values will fix our economy and revive the American Dream.