December 19, 2013

JOSH LEVIN IN SLATE: The Welfare Queen: Ronald Reagan made Linda Taylor a notorious American villain. Her other sins were far worse.

Four decades later, Reagan’s soliloquies on welfare fraud are often remembered as shameless demagoguery. Many accounts report that Reagan coined the term “welfare queen,” and that this woman in Chicago was a fictional character. In 2007, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote that “the bogus story of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen [was] a gross exaggeration of a minor case of welfare fraud.” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews says the whole thing is racist malarkey—a coded reference to black indolence and criminality designed to appeal to working-class whites.

Though Reagan was known to stretch the truth, he did not invent that woman in Chicago. Her name was Linda Taylor, and it was the Chicago Tribune, not the GOP politician, who dubbed her the “welfare queen.” It was the Tribune, too, that lavished attention on Taylor’s jewelry, furs, and Cadillac—all of which were real. . . .

When I set out in search of Linda Taylor, I hoped to find the real story of the woman who played such an outsize role in American politics—who she was, where she came from, and what her life was like before and after she became the national symbol of unearned prosperity. What I found was a woman who destroyed lives, someone far more depraved than even Ronald Reagan could have imagined. In the 1970s alone, Taylor was investigated for homicide, kidnapping, and baby trafficking. The detective who tried desperately to put her away believes she’s responsible for one of Chicago’s most legendary crimes, one that remains unsolved to this day. Welfare fraud was likely the least of the welfare queen’s offenses.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Hyper-Regulated Lawlessness. “The political significance of the ‘welfare queen’ story rests on how many of them are out there. A single person scamming the welfare state does not, by herself, represent a devastating indictment of the welfare state. It matters how easy it was, and whether a large number of people participate in such activities, albeit on a less grandiose scale than ‘the haughty thief who drove her Cadillac to the public aid office’ and wore ‘expensive clothes and oversize hats’ to her trial. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of scamming going on, and the Left is not even slightly interested in cracking down on it, or even admitting it’s a problem.” For them, it’s not a problem. It’s a funding mechanism.

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