Republicans and Democrats should never forget what Paul Ryan said about the poor.

Rep. Paul Ryan did something that is all too rare in politics.

Paul Ryan. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.


He admitted he was wrong.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

For a long time, Ryan (R-Wisconsin) had divided Americans into two groups: "makers," working people who contribute to society, and "takers," (mostly) poorer people who depend on government benefits.

A Florida woman looks for a job at a placement office in 2014. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Here's how he put it at a fundraiser in Wisconsin in 2012:

"Do you want the American idea of an opportunity society with a safety net where you can take a risk, start a business, make a difference, succeed and be honored for being successful? Or do we go down the path the president is proposing — a social welfare state, a cradle-to-the-grave society where we have more takers than makers."

And here's how he framed it earlier, speaking to a fellow Republican congressman in 2010:

"Right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes. So we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America and that will be tough to come back from that."

But this year, Ryan had a revelation: Most people don't take government aid because they like free stuff. They take it because they need it to survive.

A girl pays for food with an EBT card. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

According to the USDA, in 75% of all households that both received food stamps and had a member who was able to work, that person had a job in the year before or after receiving the benefit.

How did Ryan realize he was wrong? By listening to actual poor people.

A New York City man guides a cart of recyclable cans down the street. Photo by Jewel Samad/Getty Images.

Here's what he had to say in his speech. It's really, really different than the way he's framed the issue many times before (emphasis added):

"There was a time that I would talk about a difference between 'makers' and 'takers' in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized something. I realized that I was wrong. 'Takers' wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, trying to take care of her family. Most people don’t want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn’t castigate a large group of Americans to make a point."

It's not just poor people who benefit from government assistance. Most of us do at some point in our lives.

The thing is, we're often unaware of it, according political scientist Suzanne Mettler, whose arguments were summarized by The Washington Post in 2015. That's because the benefits that most of us receive — for things like housing and health care or through the GI Bill, if we're veterans — often come to us through lower tax bills rather than as cash handed directly to us.

If we live long enough, most of us will eventually collect Social Security or have our medical bills paid through Medicare.

There's still plenty not to love about Ryan's approach to poverty, which doesn't do much to reflect his change of heart. Yet.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

His 2014 anti-poverty plan still includes provisions that make the poorest Americans jump through hoops in order to receive benefits while wealthier Americans continue to receive tax credits for things like mortgages and college tuition "just because."

But at least where his thinking is concerned, he's starting to get it. And that's progress.

As Ryan said in his speech, "People with different ideas, they're not traitors. They're not our enemies. They're our neighbors."

It's possible to disagree with Ryan — on this or even on most things — and still believe he deserves credit for listening, grappling, and changing his tune on the poorest Americans.

You can watch Ryan's full address here. The important part starts at 9:40:

More
terimakasih0/Pixabay

When Iowa Valley Junior-Senior High School principal Janet Behrens observed her students in the cafeteria, she was dismayed to see that they spent more time looking down at their phones than they did looking at and interacting with each other. So last year, she implemented a new policy that's having a big impact.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

popular
The Guardian / YouTube

Earlier this month, a beluga whale caught the world's attention by playing fetch with a rugby ball thrown by South African researchers off the waters of Norway.

The adorable video has been watched over 20 million times, promoting people across the globe to wonder how the whale became so comfortable around humans.

It's believed that the whale, known as Hvaldimir, was at some point, trained by the Russian military and was either released or escaped.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular