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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s just-released The Way Forwardis to fuel speculation about his possible presidential ambitions. And while the book is worthy of praise for its candor, insight, and novel policy ideas, Ryan still manages to stumble just a bit when it comes to matters of race.

First, the good parts. Those looking for a behind the scenes look at the Romney-Ryan ticket in 2012 will not be disappointed.  Ryan fluidly weaves his experience on the campaign trail with Mitt Romney as he discusses the problems that vex America, as well as his thoughts on how best to fix them.

Ryan’s reflections on President Obama’s invitation to join at George Washington University, where the president received the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles Commission to reign in entitlement spending, are also noteworthy. Ryan says he thought Obama had brought him to the event to pursue a bipartisan path forward, but was was shocked when the president savaged his proposed budget blueprint. Of Obama’s speech that day, Ryan writes: “His false attacks were offensive, even by the low standards for discourse and civility in Washington, D.C…This is who he is, I thought.  Savage defense.  Demagogue Republicans.  Don’t triangulate.  Don’t moderate.  Go all in.” 

“Paul, I’m so sorry,” Ryan reports Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of the president’s own entitlement reform commission, telling him after the event.  “I’m ashamed of what just happened.  I cannot believe the president just did that.  I apologize.  That was reprehensible behavior and I’m ashamed of it as a Democrat.”

The Way Forward also touches on many of the challenges we face concerning the national debt and the urgent need for entitlement reform, an issue that many in Washington are unwilling to touch. He ably describes the public policy disaster that is Detroit as an example of what happens big government liberalism runs amok, and spends much of the first half of the book comparing the Motor City to his comparatively idyllic hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.

Still, Ryan opens himself up to needless criticism when he writes how Republicans can make inroads with communities of color. I’ve long defended Ryan from people who say he’s some kind of dog-whistling racist who doesn’t care about people of color Having been his friend for more than 20 years, I know that nothing could be further from the truth. And yet when Ryan discusses his early efforts to reach out to the black community in his home district, which he did mostly by going to predominately black churches, I couldn’t help but wince.

“It’s a different deal at a black church, of course,” Ryan observes.  “And if anyone’s faith ever needs perking up, that’s the place to go.  I always tried to get into the spirit of things with dancing, clapping, and singing out in the pews.  It was a small mercy in 2012 that no videotapes of my dancing ever surfaced.”

Of course Ryan should meet with his constituents, but come on, Paul. The fact is, many people will question your sincerity if you just keep going to black churches in search of black votes. When I worked for President Bush and Vice President Cheney, I offered them both a simple message which I know they both took to heart: don’t treat black people like black people. Treat them like concerned citizens worried about jobs, their children and the future of the country. The minute you start showing up in churches and talking about welfare and the like, you sound as if you are talking down to people based on the color of their skin.

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