Friday, December 27, 2013

Government by Anecdote: Welfare Queen Edition

Linda Taylor, welfare queen: Ronald Reagan made her a notorious American villain. Linda Taylor’s other sins were far worse.:

Josh Levin's story documents the real story of the woman Reagan cited in his celebrated and reviled "welfare queen" remark.
He argues that the real story--which was much worse than the facts that Reagan cited at the time--debunks Reagan's use of the anecdote since the woman was not representative or typical of the welfare using population:
With her story, Reagan marked millions of America’s poorest people as potential scoundrels and fostered the belief that welfare fraud was a nationwide epidemic that needed to be stamped out. This image of grand and rampant welfare fraud allowed Reagan to sell voters on his cuts to public assistance spending. The “welfare queen” became a convenient villain, a woman everyone could hate. She was a lazy black con artist, unashamed of cadging the money that honest folks worked so hard to earn. 
On the other hand you could argue that an example doesn't have to be typical to be informative. As Mickey Kaus argues, the whole story gives the impression that the system of dispensing benefits was ripe for manipulation and that Taylor was merely the best at a game many were playing. If a right-wing, tea-party supporter were to shot up a Democratic campaign headquarters it would surely be used to discredit the movement and pointed to as revealing something about the nature of the larger group without anyone claiming that all or even most tea-party are about to start shooting people.

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