Remember that "welfare queen" from Chicago with all the dead husbands and the fake Social Security numbers whom Ronald Reagan made famous in 70s and 80s? It turns out she wasn't a figment of his overheated imagination after all. I'm not going to give more away than that because Josh Levin's investigative report about her in Slate is so beautifully written and the story itself is so shocking.
“She Used 80 Names”
Ronald Reagan loved to tell stories. When he ran for president in 1976, many of Reagan’s anecdotes converged on a single point: The welfare state is broken, and I’m the man to fix it. On the trail, the Republican candidate told a tale about a fancy public housing complex with a gym and a swimming pool. There was also someone in California, he’d explain incredulously, who supported herself with food stamps while learning the art of witchcraft. And in stump speech after stump speech, Reagan regaled his supporters with the story of an Illinois woman whose feats of deception were too amazing to be believed.
“In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record,” the former California governor declared at a campaign rally in January 1976. “She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.” As soon as he quoted that dollar amount, the crowd gasped.
When you're done reading it, and I promise you won't be able to stop once you begin, ask yourself if the welfare fraud was the most important aspect of Linda Taylor's life. I came away from it angry, and not just at the way conservatives have successfully demagogued "welfare" to win elections and divide the country for decades now but also for how Democrats capitulated on this issue in the 90s. How's that "welfare reform" working out for us now? I kept hearing how kicking a bunch of people off the rolls would make Dems look tough and neutralize our image on the issue.
I don't know about you guys, but I hadn't noticed Republicans shutting up about "welfare" one bit since Clinton "ended welfare as we know it". All it did was expand the definition of "welfare" to include any public program that helps poor people. I certainly haven't observed any decrease in the willingness of rank-and-file Republican voters I encounter to cite resentment over "people getting handouts for not working" as a reason for voting the way they do.The Romney campaign amped up the welfare rhetoric in 2012, which was said to be based on Frank Luntz focus groups. Romney himself went as far as to suggest that nearly half the population is dependant on the government.
He probably went a tad too far with that, as he lost the election but it did plant the idea that 47% of the country are lazy moochers firmly in a lot of people's minds. Many among that 47% work and don't receive a single dollar of public assistance of any kind but because their incomes are too low for income taxes, they too are "welfare queens". And now not a day goes by that some right wing Congressional Rep or state legislator says something cruel and ridiculous about food stamp recipients or some other type of "taker". On my other blog I once wryly predicted that at some point fairly soon breathing by poor people was going to be considered welfare.
Then again, Levin's article demonstrates how truly little has changed regarding politicians and public officials and their lack of concern for poor people's lives. That they were more interested in Linda Taylor's welfare fraud than in everything else she did is simply breathtaking.