Posted on | December 24, 2013 | 19 Comments
One of the things about the Internet Age is that it assists us in determining the truth about circumstances which have historically been the subject of myth-making. Josh Levin of Slate discovered the facts behind a favorite anecdote of Ronald Reagan’s:
[I]n 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.” . . .
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 at Slate. Some of the Chicago Tribune reporting cited by Reagan was done by Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Bliss, and her crimes were reported by the New York Times: with the headline “Welfare Queen Loses Her Cadillac Limousine.” In other words, this wasn’t an obscure case and Reagan didn’t make it up. The Welfare Queen was both real and notorious.
Will Krugman, Matthews and other liberals apologize for smearing Ronald Reagan? Don’t hold your breath.
And one other thing: Linda Taylor was white.