Barbara Lee and Bill O’Reilly trade barbs

Rep. Barbara Lee says Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s language on poverty and race “is disgusting and divisive and should never be accepted in our national discourse.”

This all started March 12, when House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., spoke about his legislative proposals for reforming poverty programs during his appearance on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America. “We have got 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, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee said.

Lee, D-Oakland, issued a statement that same day saying Ryan’s comments were “a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’”

Lee said that as a Budget Committee member herself, Ryan’s claims about racial dynamics of poverty “are not only statistically inaccurate, but deeply offensive.”

“Instead of demonizing ‘culture,’ and blaming black men for their poverty, Mr. Ryan should step up and produce some legitimate proposals on how to tackle poverty and racial discrimination in America,” she challenged. “His uninformed policy proposals continue to increase poverty, not solve it. My colleague is demonstrating a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the issues in urban and black communities.”

That brings us to Tuesday, when O’Reilly brought the exchange up during his interview with Ryan.

O’REILLY: So I understand you had a phone call with Ms. Lee. How did that go?

RYAN: Well, I have known Barbara for many years. Look, there was nothing racial whatsoever in what I said. And if you listen to the full context of all of my remarks, it’s pretty clear. So what I would like to do and I mentioned this is, let’s get beyond throwing baseless charges at people. Let’s not impugn people’s motives or characters and let’s have a real conversation about what we really need to do [[is]] to truly fight poverty in America. If the status quo was working so well, then we wouldn’t have to do that. It’s not.


O’REILLY: They don’t want a conversation. With all due respect to you because I think you are a good man. They don’t want a conversation. They don’t want to solve the problem. These race hustlers make a big living, and they get voted into office, by portraying their constituents as victims, and it’s all your fault and it’s my fault, it’s the rich people’s fault, it’s the Republicans’ fault. It’s everybody’s fault except what’s going on. And what’s going on, as you know, is the dissolution of the family, and you don’t have proper supervision of children, and they grow up with no skills, and they can’t read and speak, and they have tattoos on their neck, and they can’t compete in the marketplace. And that is what is going on. But if you say that you are a racist. So, no matter what you say congressman, you are going to be branded because the race hustlers don’t want to solve the problem.

BOOM! Lee is not amused.

“Unfortunately we’ve come to expect language like ‘welfare queens,’ ‘food stamp president,’ and now ‘race hustlers’ from the right wing and Mr. O’Reilly. It is disgusting and divisive and should never be accepted in our national discourse,” she said Wednesday.

“For us to achieve the American dream for all, we must engage in this conversation that has been sparked about race and poverty, even if it is difficult for some. Racial discrimination, poverty, and income inequality remain issues that must be debated and addressed, and these kinds of ‘code words’ only get in the way of solving the real problems,” Lee said.

Congress has a responsibility to “come together to present a budget and funding priorities that create opportunity for all,” she continued. “We must make critical investments in job creation, education, and job training. Among many issues, we must address extending unemployment insurance, raising the minimum wage, enacting criminal justice reform, and securing voting rights for communities of color, so that we can truly find solutions to these critical issues.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    BarbLee says Inner City youth need special help because of the larger society’s neglect, and, er, racism. In a fair world, all of Oakland would look like Piedmont. Sadly, the greedy 1% neglects the jobless, underemployed, poorly educated, jailed, etc.

  • Elwood

    Barbara Lee is still full of the same old same old.

  • JohnW

    It’s hard to admit, but the circumstances faced by inner city youth are the direct legacy of our history. These are grandkids of people who migrated from the South in the 30’s and 40’s to work in the shipyards that are now a shadow of what they were at peak. Those people, in turn, were the grandkids of slaves. That’s why I want to scream when Chief Justice Roberts proclaims, “the way to end discrimination on the basis of race is to end discrimination on the basis of race.” (meaning no affirmative action). Says the man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a home run.

    Nobody has figured out how to break the cycle. However, yesterday’s Chronicle had an amazing story about 68-year-old Oral Lee Brown, a Mississippi native who adopted a class of First Graders at Brookfield Elementary in Oakland in 1987. She tutored them, took them on outings, pushed them to succeed. 19 of the 23 finished high school and 13 finished college, including some who obtained advanced degrees. Oh, and she paid for their college education with her own money.

    She now works with 85 kids, with assistance from people at Berkeley, Stanford, Mills and UCLA.

    Her next project, starting a charter boarding school in the Oakland Hills, to take kids out of dysfunctional home situations so that they can get a decent education — with parental consent. She has raised $7 million of the $21 million needed to get this going. She is selling her own house to make a contribution, as though she hadn’t already gone far beyond the call of duty. I think the charter boarding school is a great concept that would pay off huge long-run benefits, economically and socially. Oral Lee Brown is my new hero.

  • Elwood
  • JohnW

    Well, I happen to agree with her about the defense budget. Those who say that our budget is more than the next 10 countries combined overlook that we pay military personnel several times as much as those other countries. Consequently, the budget doesn’t go as far. So, I imagine that Republicans will be proposing the higher taxes required to pay for a more muscular defense budget, right?

    As for all of her comments about Syria, al Qaeda in Fallujah, China’s nationalist fervor and Ukraine, she’s a little light on substance. And I’m a Condi fan.

    She mentions war fatigue (or weariness as she puts it). It’s not just Obama who is war weary. It’s the whole damned country, Dems and Repubs. Ten years in a war launched under false pretenses will do that. The expression, “keep your powder dry” comes to mind. Unfortunately, the powder got very, very wet in Iraq.

  • JohnW

    GEORGE SHULTZ (Reagan Sec of State) AND SAM NUNN (former Chair of Senate Armed Services) EXPLAIN THINGS BETTER THAN CONDI


  • RRSenileColumnist

    BarLee Respectable lumps dope dealers with aspiring college students. Did you catch her cameo in Django Unchained? She played a field hand.;

  • Elwood

    Shultz and Nunn make good points.

    But what does all that have to do with Obama being a p***y as Condi so discreetly pointed out?

  • JohnW

    Shultz and Nunn talked strategy and the long game, not testosterone and bluster. Other than her points about the defense budget (with which I generally agree), Condi just rattled off the list of horribles in the world but offered no prescription for dealing with them — other than generalities about being strong.

    No examples of how, say a Bush 43 administration would have handled things differently. How far did “Axis of Evil” or “You’re either for us or against us” rhetoric get us?” Oh, I forgot how GWB solved North Korea, Iran, Georgia, al Qaeda etc. I forgot how GWB looked into the eyes of Putin and figured out how we could work with him. And Condi, a Russia specialist, was at GWB’s side then.

    Condi would have you believe that Obama’s red lines (admittedly a bad move) and failure to do whatever in Syria has undermined the confidence of our allies (real ones and dubious ones) in the U.S. to have their back. I would submit that our 10-year adventure in Iraq did more to undermine our ability to project power in the world than anything Obama has done or failed to do.

  • Elwood

    “and now ‘race hustlers’ from the right wing” –Bobbie Lee

    If Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton aren’t race hustlers, what are they?

    Oh, wait, wait, I know!

    Civil rights leaders!